The confusion was there, but she saw the memories return and she saw the pain. He knew. She'd known that everything Angelus had done and seen, he would know, but no matter how many times she'd told herself she could deal with it, the reality of the moment made her want to run.
He looked away, toward Wesley and the others and she pressed back against Spike, wanting comfort as her throat tightened and her eyes burned. "Hi, guys," Angel managed, his words a bit raspy.
"Angel?" Wesley asked, his voice sounding just a little uncertain.
"It should be him," Willow said. "The ritual went like it was supposed to. Buffy, did his eyes do that weird glow the last time?"
She tried to reply, but her mouth was dry and the words wouldn't come. Swallowing, she managed, "Yes. That's what happened."
"Buffy's the only who's actually seen Angel just after re-souling," Willow explained, sounding amazingly chipper for someone who'd just completed an intense ritual.
"The soul's there," Spike's voice was serious. "Other vampires...we can feel it, feel the difference. Don't take my word for it, though; you might want to do your own test."
"Maybe Lorne should do a reading," Fred suggested. "I know it didn't work out terribly well last time, but we should give it a try."
"Angel? Cupcake? Feel up to singing me a few lines?" Lorne's voice was soothing, coaxing if Angel was hesitant, but not pressuring him to do anything he wasn't ready for.
Angel slowly drew himself up to his feet, his eyes flickering briefly over toward Buffy, then quickly away. Clearing his throat, he started to sing in a low voice, "Once when you were mine, we lived within a world all our own, once when you were mine, once there was a time..."
The voice was halting and slightly off-key...and Lorne's smile had become somewhat fixed. "Still going for the Manilow, I see."
"Yeah, well, you know how much I like the classics. Did I pass?"
Everyone looked toward Lorne. "Oh, it's Angel. I just...you know, you probably need to rest, big guy. Let's get you some blood and get you tucked up in your bed."
There was a general agreement and Willow undid the magic binding the lock, allowing Angel to step out of the cage. His friends came forward to greet him, let him know they were glad he was back. Buffy couldn't bring her feet to move, though, not knowing what she could possibly say. Her hand slipped up to cover Spike's, wishing the two of them were anywhere but here.
Angel started for the stairs, but stopped as he passed near her. "It's good to see you, Buffy," he said with a sad smile. In the next moment, his gaze moved behind her and his expression hardened. "Spike, get the hell out of my home."
He turned his back on them and headed up the stairs, pausing only to look down at Connor. Father and son said nothing, merely looked at each other for a long moment, then Angel continued on toward the lobby.
An uncomfortable silence fell over the basement. Lorne and Wesley exchanged looks and then Lorne followed Angel up the stairs. "He doesn't understand," Fred said by way of apology. "He doesn't know you've been helping us."
"Doesn't matter," Spike said, sounding unaccountably weary. "We've hated each other from the moment we met."
He pressed a kiss to the top of Buffy's head. "Your call, luv. What next?"
Hit the road for Sunnydale every instinct said. It'd be one way to avoid the very unpleasant conversation that lay ahead. "We have to stay. I need to talk to him about the First, see if there's anything he knows or has been going on that could help us."
As she expected, he offered no argument, though his expression when she looked up at him made it clear his preference was to be gone.
"If Buffy feels she needs to stay," Wesley said, "I'd be happy to offer you accommodations, Spike. Believe me, I understand how...insistent he can be when one's aroused his ire."
It was a kind gesture on Wesley's part, one Buffy hadn't expected. She hated the idea of sending him off so she could stay and to speak to Angel. What if she didn't get a chance to talk to him tonight? Would they be stuck here until tomorrow evening? What was she going to do during the day? Disappear to Wesley's as well?
"I'm going to talk to him," she said abruptly. "If Angel wants to throw you out, he can throw me out as well and we can just go home."
She'd barely managed to pull away when Lorne stuck his head back into the basement as if on cue. "Buffy? Angel would like to have a word with you, if you don't mind."
"Maybe we should pack," she said jokingly, then headed up the stairs.
"He's in the office," Lorne said in a low voice as they entered the lobby. "Be gentle with him; I think he realizes he might have been a bit harsh a few moments ago."
Buffy had a funny feeling Angel hadn't come to that realization on his own, but she didn't comment before heading into the small office just off the area behind the counter. Angel was sitting behind the desk, staring morosely into a cup of blood. "You wanted to see me?"
Angel looked up, shifting uncomfortably. "Yeah, I...well, I...of all the people in the world, why Spike?"
The last words were a bit plaintive, as if he were hoping she'd tell him it wasn't true. "You mean, why him because he's infuriating and rude and sometimes I want to strangle him, or why him because he's the last person in the world you want to see me with?"
"I want you to have a normal life, Buffy. You deserve it."
She laughed, realizing she shouldn't be surprised they were going to cover the same tired old ground. "I deserve a lot of things. I deserve a chance to finish college. I deserve to have my mother alive. I deserve to have one year out of my life where I'm not fighting an apocalyptic battle where I might die. The odds of me getting any of those are pretty slim."
"You deserve better than Spike."
There were two options open to Buffy at this point. She could walk out, grab Spike, Willow and Kennedy, go back to Sunnydale in a huff and let this fester. The other option was to sit down and attempt to have an adult conversation with a somewhat cranky vampire.
Buffy settled herself in a chair, took a deep breath and promised her to try and remain calm. "Whether or not I 'deserve' better than Spike is not open for discussion. This wasn't something I went leaping into lightly, believe me."
"You don't know him like I do. You don't understand..."
"I think I'm beginning to understand him pretty well -- and I understand how he's changed. He came down here to help you." She didn't necessarily intend the rebuke in her voice.
"I know." Angel started studying his blood once more. "Lorne told me and...I know."
He took a drink, then leaned back in his chair, staring at the ceiling. "The memories of what happened when I was...gone are coming back. It's bits and pieces right now, but there are certain things that are painfully clear. I remember trying to bite you. I remember fighting with you, with Spike. I definitely remember Spike jamming a tranquilizer dart in my butt."
"After which you gave him that nasty bruise he's sporting."
Was that a smile on his face? If so, it had vanished when he looked at her again. "What I'm trying to say is that I don't like Spike, I don't like him being here, I definitely don't like the idea of him being with you...but the least I can do is not throw him out."
Buffy wondered if he'd realized Spike leaving meant her departure as well or if he was genuinely feeling a touch of remorse for acting like an arrogant ass to someone who'd tried to help him. Either way, it meant she could take care of business without that hanging over her head. "Thank you. I just...well, we can talk tomorrow. There've been some things happening in Sunnydale that you might be able to help us with."
This time he was definitely smiling. "You know all you have to do is ask, Buffy. Whatever I can do. Maybe once we've cleared things here, I should come up and visit."
That idea didn't fill her with the same enthusiasm it once would have. Still, she smiled as was expected of her. "That'd be great. Look, Lorne's right. Finish your blood and get some rest. We all need it. It's been a hard few days. I need to call Giles, anyway, let him know we might be home tomorrow night. Spring in Sunnydale; you know the drill."
It was the perfect cue to exit on, pulling her cell phone from her pocket as she went. Checking the indicators, she realized she had a new message and frowned, wondering if it might be Giles. Today was...Wednesday? Was that all? Tapping in the code to retrieve her message, she lifted the phone to her ear. "Buffy? His friend's visiting again, talking to him now. He's told her you're on the trail. Buffy? Oh, bloody hell..."
So much for cell phones being a great help in their work, not that Spike's warning would have made any difference. Hitting the speed dial code for the house, she leaned against the counter as she waited for someone to pick up. "Vi? It's Buffy. No, I'm fine. Is Giles around? Why is he...never mind. Just tell him I'm one the phone. Giles, why are you threatening Andrew with bodily harm? I see. Well, yes, I'd probably feel like hurting him for that myself. We're doing fine down here, got Angel all re-souled, so that's good. Um, well, I've only gotten to talk to Angel for a few minutes; Angelus was the usual pain in the neck. I thought it was funny. We're going to talk tomorrow, compare notes on what's been happening, see if there's anything that might help us. After that, we should be heading back up. Yeah, tomorrow night. More potentials? Can I tell you how not thrilled I am? Okay, okay. Sacred calling and all that. Look, I got about three hours sleep last night, so I'm going sneak off to bed while things are quiet. Yes, I'll call before we get on the road. See you tomorrow."
Dropping the cell phone back in her pocket, Buffy noticed Spike, Willow and Kennedy were waiting by the elevators at the far end of the lobby. "So, we staying or going?" Willow asked as she approached.
"Staying," Buffy said.
"You're not telling me Angel suddenly saw reason -- or did you convince him?"
There was a streak of tension in Spike's voice and she had to wonder if maybe she shouldn't have brought him, shouldn't have put him in this position. It might have been easier for all of them. Even as she considered that idea, though, she knew it would have been far more difficult without his presence. "Is he happy? No. Tried to convince me I wasn't doing the right thing and he'll probably try again before we leave. But he also admitted that you'd been helping and said letting you stay is the least he could do."
"Oh, yeah, because the hospitality I showed him..." Spike caught himself, cutting his words off abruptly. "Not going to go there. Water under the bridge. We're going home tomorrow night?"
He sounded so hopeful. "Absolutely," she assured him. Besides, I have to be back at school on Monday, so I'd like to have at least a couple of days before I'm balancing work with potential wrangling again."
"Besides trying to discover if Principal Wood is really evil."
Buffy let out a sigh. "Did you have to remind me, Willow? I still haven't figured out how to do that. Maybe I should sneak into the school after hours and toss his office."
Kennedy grinned. "Sounds fun."
"Sounds bloody dangerous," Spike said. "Do we know if that seal in the basement is active or am I the only one who can bleed on it?"
"Good point. Maybe a midnight raid isn't the best idea. Come one. I want to get some sleep."
They started across the lobby, but stopped as Angel came out of the office. He looked at them, a mixture of pain and anger on his face. Buffy felt Spike's hand tighten a little at her waist and realized she hadn't even notice he'd slipped his arm around her, so natural the gesture had seemed. Then Wesley appeared to ask Angel some question and draw him toward the stairs, avoiding a confrontation.
Tomorrow night. They weren't staying any longer than tomorrow night.
It'd been a blissful morning as far as Spike was concerned. No alarm clock to waken them, no pounding girly feet; just the two of them curled up next to each other in bed, slowly rousing from sleep. He also knew it was a rare moment for them and one he intended to savor.
The idea of simply sharing conversation while they lay among the covers was a novel one, suited to a lazy morning, enough light filtering through the windows to wrap them in a warm glow, but not enough to set him burning.
When Buffy finally slipped out of bed, saying something about being hungry and taking Willow off to find a proper breakfast, he didn't object, content to lie in bed and listen to the water pounding in the shower. He could hear her singing, some silly pop ditty with no tune and crap words, but it was beautiful music to his ears.
"You going to be lazy?" she asked when she'd dried off and dressed, sitting on the edge of the bed and running her fingers through his hair.
"Vampire here. Every once in a while, I suppose I should make some token acknowledgement of the fact I'm supposed to be a creature of darkness and sleep the day away."
Buffy laughed and kissed him, then issued a stern warning for him to be out of bed by the time she got back or she'd have to perform an awful torture such as tickling him. No, claiming vampires weren't ticklish wouldn't work because she knew this one spot...
In the end, he hadn't slipped back to sleep for that long, a growling in his stomach reminding him there were other needs he needed to tend to. Telling himself he was not getting up because Buffy insisted, Spike showered and pulled on the last of the clothes he'd brought with him and headed down to see if there was any blood in the refrigerator.
The lobby was empty except for Gunn, who looked up from the paper long enough to say good morning before going back to the sports page. Spike didn't disturb him, heading straight for the refrigerator, ready for his morning dose of pig. A little rummaging and he found it behind the half and half, pulling the bottle out so he could pour himself a mug.
He started to turn to ask Gunn if he knew where the "Coldwell Realty" mug Spike had used the other night was...and found himself face to face with Angel. "Glad to see you're up. You and I need to have a little chat."
Continued in Chapter Twenty-Two