In the meantime, Buffy and Spike helped Gunn restore the lobby to its previous state. Wesley began the research, while Fred assembled the package Willow was going to take back to Sunnydale. Lorne fussed over Willow, which Willow didn't seem to mind one bit.
Angel flitted between everyone, buzzing with energy. He looked happier than Buffy ever remembered seeing him. The brooding look wasn't completely gone, but he was smiling, almost grinning. Buffy couldn't even be annoyed with him over the fact it was all about Cordelia, especially since it seemed to have distracted him from objecting to Spike's continued presence in her life.
At length, Willow's color returned to something resembling normal and Lorne offered his opinion she was probably well enough to make the trip back without being sick. Connor and Kennedy were still in the basement and Buffy went to fetch them while Spike got the luggage.
The basement was quiet as she came down the stairs save for the sound of voices. "I don't understand. Everything I was taught says that vampires are bad and slayers are supposed to kill them. Yet here she is, being all cozy. I mean, she's sleeping with Spike."
"I know. My father -- my real father; Angel's just my biological father -- taught me the same thing. Vampires are evil animals who need to be destroyed. Yet we're expected to work with them, treat them as allies, follow their orders."
"Buffy's the same. Spike helps her with everything and when he went missing, after siring a nest of vampires, I might add, she was crazy trying to find him."
Buffy considered letting them continue, but decided she'd heard more than enough and cleared her throat. The two looked up guiltily from where they sat on the basement floor. "We're getting ready to leave," she told Kennedy. "Spike's getting the luggage."
Kennedy was on her feet instantly. "I haven't finished packing. I'd better do that."
The girl practically sprinted up the stairs, leaving Connor alone. He stared at the floor for a long moment and then looked up. "Did your magic work?"
"Yes. We contacted Cordelia and she gave us some information that might help you find her."
"Great." Connor rose, dusted himself off. "I'm sure my father is very happy."
Buffy considered telling him she understood some of what he was going through, but she decided against it. She had enough problems to deal with; she didn't need to get any further involved with Angel's...especially since Connor probably wouldn't believe or appreciate a single word. Sending up a silent prayer that Angel and his son could find some way to communicate with each other, she turned and climbed back up the stairs, leaving Connor alone in the dimly-lit room.
When she returned to the lobby, she caught sight of Willow going up the stairs and Spike shaking his head as he finished coming down. "More Kennedy drama?" Buffy asked as she went to help him with the bags he carried. "What this time?"
"Glared at Angel, made a point of avoiding him and yelled at me to put her bags down if I had them. I was telling her I hadn't touched her sodding bags when Willow took exception...to the girl's behavior, not mine, which was a strange feeling. She took off for her room and Willow took off after her." Spike shook his head as they made their way through the garden toward the car. "It's going to be one bloody silent trip back home, I tell you. Either that or the girls are going to have it out all the way there."
They reached the car and began to load the bags. "Can I just vote Kennedy off the island?" Buffy asked. "Solve the problem that way?"
"You mean, before she votes you out? I'm not blind; she's got good qualities, but she's a weak link in some ways. I've seen minions like that before; they start second-guessing the big guy, thinking they're better than him, know all the answers. Sometimes they do, but there starts being an ugly tendency to ignore orders or change things...which means they could get themselves and others killed."
Buffy leaned her head against the side of the car. "So don't want to deal with this."
"One of the responsibilities of being the general, luv. You're probably going to have to slap her down sooner or later. Know it's not your style, but it's probably going to have to be done. I'll help."
She had to chuckle at the enthusiasm in his voice and looked up to find him watching her fondly. "Knew I'd get a smile. Come on, let's go get the troops and head home."
Willow and Kennedy appeared to actually be speaking as the Sunnydale contingent said their goodbyes, although the tension was thick. Still, Kennedy didn't say anything when Willow included Angel in her round of hugs, just stood to one side with her arms folded over her chest, a mirror to Connor's own stance just beyond the Angel Investigation crew.
"You take care of your little slayer self," Lorne told Buffy, wrapping her in a hug. "Come back to visit us -- and bring Spike with you. I'm going to re-open my club someday and I'd like you both there. Oh, or if I get a real Vegas date, not some demon who wants to use my talents for his own nefarious purposes. Get all of you out there for a big party."
Buffy promised she'd take him up on the offer before turning to Wesley. They looked at each other for a long moment. "It was a lot more fun working with you this time," she said at last, not knowing what else to say.
"Well," Wesley replied, looking a bit skeptical. "I'm not certain fun is how I'd describe it, but, yes, better this time."
No hugs here. Bridges had been mended, but they weren't to that point yet. Instead, Wesley offered his hand, which was an improvement over the way they had parted the last time. Then, Wesley turned to Spike. "Thank you for everything."
There was something in his voice that spoke of more bonding between the two men than Buffy had witnessed. Spike hesitated a moment, then took the hand Wesley offered. "Any time, mate."
As the two men shook, Buffy turned to Angel. Now she was really uncertain what to say. Good seeing you? Good luck? Have fun with Cordelia when you find her? "Ummm..."
Angel offered her a sheepish grin. "Yeah, I know."
That served to break the ice and she hugged him tightly. "I hope you find her."
He hugged back. "We'll do our best. I want you to be happy."
She pulled back to look up at him. "I am," she said, hoping he would understand.
By the look in his eye, she could tell he still wasn't happy with the situation, but she also saw acceptance, just as he expected acceptance for his feelings regarding Cordelia. It'd taken four years, but they'd both finally, really, moved on.
"He gives you any trouble..."
Okay, so maybe the moving on wasn't one hundred percent complete. The concern was sweet, though, just as she knew she'd always have a spot in her heart for him. "Goodbye, Angel," she said, reaching up to kiss him on the cheek.
Buffy stepped back to stand next to Spike. Angel watched her for a moment longer, then looked at Spike. "Take care of her."
Spike slipped an arm around her, his expression serious. "I will," he promised.
Buffy was more than willing to let Spike do the driving on the trip back, watching the lights of LA zip by as he maneuvered them onto the freeway. His prediction had proved wrong and Willow and Kennedy were speaking quietly but intensely in the back seat. No, he was right after all; the few words she caught as they drifted forward bore a certain tone of argument.
With a sigh, she shifted, letting her head rest against the window. She used to do this when she was child and the family would travel, lean against the window and watch the world go by. She'd done it seven years ago when she and Mom had made that final drive from Los Angeles to Sunnydale, not wanting to speak because she was leaving everything she knew behind. Mom had tried to keep up a running conversation, spinning dreams about how the new start would be wonderful for them both, but her forced enthusiasm had soon dwindled and died under the weight of Buffy's silence.
"Penny for your thoughts."
She turned her head just enough to look at Spike. His eyes were on the road, but she didn't miss the glances he tossed her way. "Just...thinking. Remembering when we moved to Sunnydale." She frowned. "Funny, but it's one memory where I don't remember Dawn being there. Seems strange that out of everything, I wouldn't remember her for that."
"Monks weren't perfect, pet."
"Maybe. Or maybe it's because I was in such a snit about having to leave LA, I wasn't thinking of anyone else." She shrugged. "It's nothing."
"Any other reason for the trip down memory lane?"
"Seeing Angel, being in Los Angeles again, the drive...a hundred things."
Spike chuckled. "One thing I miss about the DeSoto; the old bench seats. If we had them, I'd have you cuddle up next to me and you could dream all you wanted all the way to Sunnydale."
"And I can't dream now?"
"Oh, nothing preventing that. Just can't hold you close while you do, that's all." He sighed. "Some things are not progress."
She laughed and settled herself more comfortably in her seat as he reached out to flip on the radio. The sound of oldies filled the air, keeping them company all the way home.
Most of the lights were still burning in the house when Spike pulled into the driveway. It wasn't that late, Buffy figured, maybe just around midnight at the latest. Giles was expecting them, too, so it was likely everyone was still up.
Willow and Kennedy got out of the car first. The angry tones had diminished somewhat during the drive, but there were clearly still issues to work out and who knew if there was enough time to do it. Still, the women walked hand in hand across the lawn toward the front door.
Buffy was about to get out herself when she realized Spike wasn't moving, just staring ahead, his hands tapping a rhythm on the steering wheel. "Okay, now it's a penny for your thoughts."
"Thinking about what's going to happen when we walk in there. Giles is going to want to talk to you."
She sighed. "I know. He's going to tell me why this isn't right."
"Some of his points are going to be valid."
"Did you think any of Angel's points of why we shouldn't be together were valid?"
"No. Him I told to get stuffed." Spike shifted turning in his seat to face her. "I'm just saying I know how important Giles is to you. Don't shove him away without listening to him."
"Spike, what's going on? You're starting to worry me." She frowned. "You didn't develop a sudden case of nobility, did you?"
He snorted. "Hardly. It's just that you draw your strength from those you love. You're going to need all of it you can get during the coming days and I don't want to see bad blood between you and him."
She leaned forward, closing the distance between them. "I need you, too," she told him. "I don't want to lose that strength, either."
It was one last moment of peace and privacy before they returned to the demands the world and her calling would make on them. For Buffy, it ended all too soon and they were both leaving the car, grabbing their bags and heading up the walk, fingers intertwined.
The front door was open and Giles stood there, waiting for them. They stopped halfway up the steps and Buffy wondered if he'd looked so old the last time she'd seen him. On his face was worry and concern mixed with annoyance as his eyes slid down to look at their twined hands. Then he looked up and gave her a smile that would have been warmer and more welcoming if he just didn't seem so tired. "Welcome home, Buffy. How was Los Angeles?"
"Big. Dark at first, but we took care of that."
They stood there awkwardly. She knew he wanted to say something about Spike, but the vampire's presence (along with numerous teenaged ears) were most likely what were holding him back. She didn't want to have that conversation, but, as Spike had said, she didn't want to shut him out. "Giles..."
"You should come in," he said, not letting her finish. "Have you had supper? I'm afraid it's spaghetti, but it reheats well."
They weren't going to talk right now, but Buffy had no doubt the conversation was simply delayed. Releasing Spike's hand, she gave Giles a hug before she went in, trying to let him know she was glad to see him.
As Giles had warned her, there were four new faces peering at her among the group gathered in the living room. Introductions were made, but all Buffy's mind would take in was that one of them was named Ellen. "Where are they sleeping?" she asked once Giles had led her to the kitchen for the reheated spaghetti.
"In the basement," he told her, filling a plate. "I'm afraid we're going to run out of space, soon, and before that, we're going to need to put some in your bedroom."
So much for a private retreat...and for her and Spike having alone time on a regular basis. "Let's put our heads together tomorrow, try to make a plan. We can't put too many more people in here; the neighbors are going to call the health department."
Giles put the plate in the microwave and set the buttons to reheat. "There are other things we need to discuss as well."
"You mean Spike."
"That is not the only thing, but yes, it is one of my primary concerns."
The microwave beeped and he retrieved the plate, setting it before her. "I don't want to get into the discussion tonight, however. I doubt either of us are quite at our best and this is a talk better suited to a time when we're rested."
Buffy could definitely live with that. "Sounds like a plan. After everyone's had their breakfast, so we're not being trampled by hordes of hungry potentials?"
"Trampled is a very apt description, and, yes." He paused, his fingers tapping a rhythm on the counter. "Will Spike be, ah, sharing your room?"
"Yes." As expected, he took off his glasses and began to clean them. "Is Andrew still alive?"
"Barely. Several times I've been tempted to see if I could feed him to the Hellmouth, let him drive it insane for a while. Eat your spaghetti, then off to bed with you. We'll talk in the morning."
Continued in Chapter Twenty-Five