Pairing: Buffy/Spike, Fred/Wesley, mentions of Cordelia/Angel and Buffy/Angel.
Summary: Two weeks after Cordelia's death Buffy arrives at Wolfram and Hart looking for answers about the disturbing dreams she has been having since the Hellmouth was closed. There she finds a grieving Angel and a newly undead Spike, as well as the horrifying threat which fate has brought her back to L.A. in order to vanquish. But is Buffy ready to face her inner demons and finally escape the clutches of the past? Ensemble cast. AU AtS s5.
Author's Note: As promised here is the next chapter, complete with a lot more Spuffy! I had so much fun writing the Buffy/Spike scenes in this story and there is plenty more to come in further chapters. Hopefully I can get the third installment completed in time for the free-for-all day, but in the meantime if you'd like to keep following this story then please do feel free to friend me. Thank you to everyone who has commented thus far.
Buffy and Spike were both dumbstruck as they stared at each other from across the length of the lobby. It was filled with clients and employees strolling back and forth, completely oblivious to their dilemma. Harmony shrunk back towards her desk at the sight of both the Slayer and her surely disgruntled boss.
A range of emotions flickered across Spike’s face.
Buffy simply registered shock.
“I can explain,” Angel said clumsily.
Buffy was not even listening. Without a word she slipped away from his side and marched cleanly across the lobby towards Spike. Her demeanour was all business. Spike stood frozen to the spot as she approached.
He had barely managed to stammer out her name before she downed him with a vicious right hook. The entire lobby came to a standstill at this display.
Angel could not help but smirk.
“I guess I can’t.”
All three were now the centre of attention as Spike struggled back to his feet, shrugging his duster back over his shoulders as he swayed a little off-balance. Blood was trickling from his nose as he touched his knuckles to his throbbing face.
“Ow,” he cried. “What in the bleeding hell was that for?”
“Let me count the reasons,” Angel said triumphantly.
Buffy looked completely distraught as the reality of what had just happened began to sink in. Her mouth opened but no words came for several moments.
“I thought you were the First,” she finally managed.
Spike clutched a hand to his bleeding nose.
“Evidently,” he said, raising an eyebrow. “So why on earth did you punch me in all of my apparently incorporeal glory then?”
Buffy did not have an answer for this.
“I don’t know,” she offered. “I just thought that…” Tears began to glisten in her eyes. “Spike?” she said, her voice trembling.
They had soon retreated to the privacy of Angel’s office. The distance between them was painfully evident. Buffy leant awkwardly against Angel’s desk, hugging her bare arms protectively to her chest. Spike mirrored her posture as he stood beside the armchair positioned in front of it. Angel lingered beside the window, touching a fist to the glass in frustration. He was currently mid-explanation.
“It was the amulet,” Angel explained. “Somehow it stored Spike’s essence after he burnt up in the Hellmouth. It got mailed to my office and presto.”
“Instant undeath,” said Buffy, finishing his sentence for him.
Angel turned towards her.
“Only not so instant,” he answered, glowering at Spike. “I don’t understand the specifics of it myself, but his existence on this plane was tied directly to the amulet.”
Angel snatched a glance at Spike.
“Meaning that Captain Peroxide here was a ghost.”
Stunned was an understatement. Buffy simply looked at Spike with a mixture of shock and awe upon her face. Spike returned her gaze uncomfortably.
“I got better,” he muttered.
This revelation seemed to render Buffy momentarily speechless. Spike did not seem to know what to say. Eventually Angel stepped into the fore.
“I know that this is a lot to take in,” he said. Buffy gave him a look. “Okay, more than a lot,” he conceded. “And maybe you are looking for somebody to blame or to throw another punch at. I know I am. But the guy responsible for all of this is currently… Well, we don’t where he is currently. The Senior Partners whisked him off somewhere I’m thinking not good. There was a portal involved.”
Buffy did not respond. She simply pushed away from the desk and began with the disordered pacing, attempting to process everything that had happened in the last ten minutes. Spike did not take his eyes away from her. He touched a hand to his still-throbbing jaw as he watched her pace.
Angel snatched a look at him, chiding him silently for his lack of helpfulness. Then he stepped forward to touch Buffy’s arm and try and guide her to a chair.
“Maybe you should sit down,” he offered.
Buffy jerked away with a start, more out of defensiveness than anything.
“I don’t need to sit down,” she told him. “This is not a sitting down situation, okay? You’ll just have to excuse me for the major level freak out here, but it’s not everyday that you find out that your former former is, y’know, formerly dead.”
Angel thought about this for a long moment.
“Well actually, since you mention it…”
“And just what is this anyways?” she said despairingly, her tone becoming angry. “Did I somehow miss the memo for Keep-Important-Things-From-Buffy-Week?”
Angel and Spike exchanged a look at this comment. It did not go amiss. Buffy’s pacing came to an immediate stop.
“Except Spike has been back for more than a week, hasn’t he?”
Angel shook his head.
“Buffy, this is really not the best-”
“How long?” she said brusquely.
Angel avoided her gaze.
“About six months, give or take.”
“Six months?” Buffy’s eyes went wide. She looked straight at Spike. “You’ve been back for six months and you never told me?”
“The time has flown, I assure you,” Angel deadpanned.
Buffy’s eyes did not leave Spike’s face.
“I can’t believe this,” she said. “I just can’t…” She ran a trembling hand through her hair. “You should have called.”
“I was going to,” Spike told her. “Wanted to.”
She held his gaze.
“So why didn’t you?”
There it was - the infernal question that he had been pondering himself for so long. He was not even sure how to go about answering it. He didn’t even know if he could. His thoughts had been going round and round in circles ever since he had become corporeal again. And then after the situation with Dana…
“Had my reasons,” Spike muttered. “I told Andrew that-"
“Andrew?” she said incredulously. He had obviously hit a nerve. “You mean that Andrew knew you were back?” Indignation filled her voice. “The next time I see him Watcher Junior has a lot of explaining to do…”
Spike shook his head.
“Don’t hurt the boy, slayer. I said I was going to tell you myself. No way was I gonna entrust him with the task. He’d probably start blathering on about Gandalf and the Balrog again…”
The hurt upon Buffy’s face was plain to see. She did not let on. Instead she turned away from Spike as she lowered herself down onto the sofa. Angel was slightly comforted by this small victory. The snatched look that she afforded him, however, told him that this was no time for celebration. Spike thrust his hands in the pockets of his duster, feeling helpless.
“You’ve been back for months,” Buffy said quietly. “And here I was stupidly thinking that you were still dead. Did you not even think that I deserved to know? Especially after everything we…” She caught herself, swallowing against the emotion rising in her throat.
Spike bowed his head, humbled.
“I didn’t know that it meant so much to you,” he said honestly.
Buffy looked up at him. Her eyes were glimmering with unshed tears.
“How can you even say that?”
This conversation was taking a turn which made Angel extremely uncomfortable. He cleared his throat and then took a step away from the sanctuary of his desk, discarding the empty mug which he had been awkwardly playing with.
“Look, I don’t really know what happened between the two of you,” he interjected. “Frankly I don’t want to know. But-”
Buffy shot a look at him.
“Really not helping.”
Angel threw up his hands.
“Hey, I’m not the guy who pretended to be dead here.”
“I wasn’t pretending,” Spike protested. “I just… sorta failed to mention that I was alive.” He perked up a bit. “There’s a nuanced difference there which I feel you’re blatantly overlooking.”
“And that makes it okay, does it?” said Angel.
“I didn’t say that.”
“And that’s exactly the problem,” Angel shot back. “Maybe next time you die and get magically resurrected from a mystical amulet try to give the people you know a heads up before the century is out.”
“As I recall you weren’t exactly very helpful in that regard…”
Buffy rolled her eyes at this.
“Um yeah,” she prodded. “Kinda sitting right here.”
It was not long before all three had descended into a full-blown argument. Somewhere amongst this crescendo of white noise there was a firm rat-a-tat upon the office door. It went completely unheard. Eventually the door opened of its own accord and Harmony stuck her head inside. She plastered on her best cheery smile.
“Uh, Angel?” She knocked shyly upon the door again. “Boss?”
The discussion suddenly died. Angel sank defeated into the chair behind his desk; Buffy and Spike turned around in exasperation. Harmony withdrew a little under the slayer’s murderous gaze.
“Hi there,” she chirped. “Hi, er, Buffy. So nice to see you again! I know that we already bumped into each other in the lobby earlier with the whole threatening to kill me and everything … Good times! But I, er, I just…”
Angel sat forwards.
“I, uh, just wanted to say that someone from the Fell Brethren is here to see you. Something about a scheduling conflict? He seems pretty mad.”
Angel stared after her in relief.
“Oh thank god.”
“Buffy? You mean Buffy is here?”
Fred looked up from her laptop and frowned, her spectacles perched precariously upon the end of her nose. She was busy conducting research in the confines of her lab. Wesley stood next to her, his arms folded as he watched her work.
“Seemingly she is holed up in Angel’s office with he and Spike,” he replied. “I saw them get into a slight fracas in the lobby.”
Fred readjusted her spectacles as she stood up straighter.
“Well, that’s good, right? I-I mean, Buffy being here, not the fracas. Spike will finally see her. She’ll know that he’s not dead. They can be together again...” The surety slipped from her voice. “Right?”
Wesley sank down into a chair.
“I’m not sure it’s as simple as that.”
Fred turned away from her work.
“How do you mean?”
A trace of emotion flickered across Wesley’s face at this question, as though he were contemplating the best way to word something which he had long been pondering.
“Love is a complicated business, Fred,” he told her. “Timing is everything. It all depends whether she feels the same way towards him that he clearly still feels towards her.”
Fred did not remain unmoved by these words. They cut close to home.
“And then there is the question of Angel,” Wesley continued, oblivious to her thoughts. “Where does he fit into all of this? I’m not sure if he is ready to relinquish whatever claim he feels he has upon Buffy’s heart. Especially after Cordelia…”
There was an uncomfortable beat as he trailed off. The mention of her name hurt them both more than they liked to admit. Mostly they had been in denial mode. They all had. Somehow it was easier that way.
Footsteps echoed from the corridor outside. The sound brought them both back from the brink. Wesley abruptly stood up from his chair and cleared his throat.
“I should keep working,” Fred offered quietly. She turned back to her work. Then she removed her spectacles with finality. “Or not. There could be snooping.” She looked to Wesley. “Should I snoop?”
The door of the lab opened behind them. Wesley turned his head to see a besuited Gunn approaching, minus his briefcase for a change.
“If you wish,” Wesley said distractedly. “I was planning on doing a bit of, er, snooping myself.”
Gunn smiled at them both.
“What’s that about Snoopy?”
Fred’s brow wrinkled in confusion.
“What? Oh, nothing, Charles. We were just discussing whether or not I should go downstairs and introduce myself to Buffy.” Her voice geared up with excitement. “I mean, it’s not everyday that you get to meet a real live vampire slayer in the flesh.” She paused a moment, thinking. “Y’know, except for that one time last year when I sorta already did…”
Gunn gave a shrug.
“Might as well,” he said. “But you’d better make it quick. I’m not sure how long she’s gonna end up sticking around.”
This gave Wesley pause.
“How do you mean?”
“I just got out of an impromptu meeting with Angel," Gunn said. “Guy seemed pretty distracted. Three guesses as to the reason why. I don’t think things went very well in his office with Buffy and Spike.”
Fred looked first at one and then at the other.
“You don’t think that…” She dropped her voice. “I mean, Angel wouldn’t do anything to…”
“I’m not sure,” Wesley said, following her train of thought. “When it comes to affairs of the heart it’s often hard to let go of the past. And we all know that Angel is not exactly renowned for his ability to forget.”
Gunn choked back a laugh.
“That’s the understatement of the century,” he said. He studied their blank faces, then added: “Or, y’know, two of ‘em.”
Fred gestured helplessly.
“I just wish we could make more headway with these images…”
For the first time Gunn noticed the pile of scattered papers upon the table beside her laptop.
“What are these?”
“Sketches,” Fred told him. “Angel made them from Buffy’s descriptions.” Gunn walked over and picked up the topmost sheet of paper. The others depicted shadowy forms which he could not make out. He stared at the sheet in his hand for a long moment. “So far we haven’t been able to place anything,” she continued. “At the moment I’m operating on the assumption that they are representations of some sort of energy matrix, but-”
“Pardon?” said Wesley.
Gunn gestured nonchalantly at the piece of paper in his hand.
“It’s a graffiti tag,” he said. “Nothing supernatural about it.”
“Are you sure?” said Fred.
“Positive. I recognise it from back in the day.”
“Well, now I feel stupid.”
“Whereabouts have you seen this particular ‘tag’?” asked Wesley. “Maybe we can narrow it down somehow…”
“Good luck,” said Gunn, extending the paper towards him. “They have these all over downtown. It’s the way that street gangs mark their territory. I did ‘em myself sometimes.” They both shot him a look. “I had a life before I met you guys, remember? I’m not saying it was exactly pretty.”
Wesley carefully took the piece of paper, staring at it intently.
“Maybe if we use Wolfram and Hart’s satellite and cross-reference this with areas of known demonic activity…”
Fred turned back to her laptop.
“I’m on it…”
“Is this the breakthrough?” said Gunn, as the two began to busy themselves with this new lead. He smiled in achievement. “Did I just breakthrough? I shoulda known those street smarts would come in handy one day. And the irony of working-class-kid-made-suit is not lost on a brother’s lengthy rap sheet.”
Wesley continued to study the piece of graffiti, this time in conjunction with the other sketches scattered across the table.
“What do you think?” said Fred, noticing the serious expression upon his face.
“It could be the site of something rising,” he said. “I won’t be sure until we’ve identified the other images.”
“Not to worry,” said Gunn in triumph. “I’m on it.” And he began to search through the remaining sketches with newfound enthusiasm.
Wesley stood back and folded his arms again, deep in thought.
“I wonder if Lorne has come up with anything that might prove useful from Buffy’s reading? Something that might help us narrow this down at any rate.”
“You mean he hasn’t?” said Gunn, pausing in his search. “That doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.”
“If that’s the case we might all be in danger,” said Fred. “And it doesn’t sound like any of us are gonna be ready for what’s coming.”
All three exchanged a look as the urgency of the situation sunk in.
“Fred’s right,” said Wesley. “I hate to say it, but there is a good chance something dire may soon come to pass.”
Buffy listened in frustration to another bout of static, and then banged the phone receiver against the desk with Slayer strength. This did not prove to be the best course of action. It promptly fell apart in her hand, and she scrambled to put it back together again as she heard a disembodied voice on the other end of the line calling her name in confusion.
“Shoot,” she muttered. “Stupid phone.” Somehow she managed to put the pieces back together into something resembling a receiver and lifted it back towards her ear. “What?” she said hurriedly. “Yes. Yes, he’s back from the dead, Dawnie. Not in a temporary-sojourn-from hell or, y’know, magical-resurrection-from-the-grave kinda way. Not that those are less legitimate forms of post-post-mortem…” She trailed off in confusion. “What was I talking about again?”
It was about ten minutes since their confrontation in Angel’s office had so lamely fizzled out to nothing, and Buffy had taken the opportunity to use the phone out in the lobby and charge the company for a horribly expensive international call. She told herself it was her way of protesting against the Big Evil Incorporated and all that it stood for, but mostly she was too cheap to pay for a better cellphone plan.
Harmony’s unease was evident as she slouched low in the chair behind her desk. She was busily arranging a vase of flowers which were currently in no need of arrangement. She didn’t know whether to be worried or relieved that for the most part Buffy did not seem to care enough to try and slay her.
The lobby was filled with people and demons going about their day. Some snatched anxious glances at the vampire slayer currently standing in their midst. Buffy felt their eyes keenly upon her. She was in enemy territory and did not forget it.
“No,” Buffy was saying into the phone. “No, he seems to be okay, all things considered. Short period of ghostliness aside anyways…” Buffy seemed to sense something then and turned towards the stairs in the corner of the lobby. Spike was traipsing down them, his leather duster swishing behind him. His pace slowed considerably.
Buffy locked eyes with him for a moment as he descended the stairs. Then she snapped out of her stupor and turned back towards the desk, lowering her voice almost to a whisper.
“Do me a favour?” she said. “Don’t tell Giles. Or the others. Not just yet.” She gave a little sigh. “I-It’s complicated, Dawn,” she added. “I just thought… Yeah. Yeah, I better go. I’ll speak to you later?” She smiled softly. “Okay. Bye.”
Buffy put the phone back down upon its cradle. It fell apart again as she did so. Harmony was now hiding her face behind a magazine and did not seem to notice. Buffy abruptly turned to find Spike leaning against the desk beside her, his face impossible to read.
“And how is the niblet?” he asked.
Buffy gave a shrug, tucking a wayward strand of hair behind her ear. She wondered if he was still mad after what had been said earlier.
“Okay, I guess. A little wigged. Mostly tired. I forget about the time difference. It’s nearly midnight in Rome. She was getting ready to go out with her friends.”
A wistful smile spread across Spike’s face. It spread to his eyes.
“Little bit is all grown up.”
Buffy laughed and leant back against the desk herself, her arms folded at her chest.
“Like you wouldn’t believe.”
Spike stared down at his boots and then stepped a little closer, still keeping a bit of distance between them. He had his hands firmly shoved in the pockets of his duster.
“So, Rome, huh?” he ventured. “Never figured you for the cosmopolitan type, pet. Thought you might head for that other Hellmouth in Cleveland.”
“No,” Buffy said, clearly amused. “No way. I’ve had enough of those things for a lifetime. Had enough of the entire western hemisphere.”
Spike took his hands out of his pockets, a little deflated.
“Makes sense,” he murmured. “Lot of bad memories to leave behind, I guess.”
“Well, Italy has a lot less demons.” She thought a moment. “And good food. But I’m still figuring out the lingo. Rosetta Stone’s really not as easy as the commercials make it look.”
Spike smiled at this. There was a moment of easy friendliness between the two as Harmony watched them intently from behind her magazine.
“So, uh, how’s the rest of the gang?” he asked eventually.
“They’re okay, all things considered.” Buffy rubbed at her folded arms a little defensively as she spoke. “Takes some adjusting when your hometown goes all collapsey overnight. We didn’t exactly plan on a road trip. Occupational hazard when you’re closing a Hellmouth, I guess.”
Spike looked at her intently.
“Did I do that?”
There was a beat as they regarded each other warmly. Perhaps sensing this change in mood Spike cleared his throat and shrugged with bravado.
“Uh yeah,” he said. “Right shame about that, you and the bit losing the house and all. Although I can’t say I mourned the high school’s loss very highly.”
Buffy shook her head apologetically, unfolding her arms.
“You couldn’t have known,” she said. “None of us did. Those freaky shaman guys said that I was the last guardian of the Hellmouth. I just thought they were making with the cryptic. I guess not.”
“Guess not,” he agreed. “Still, I’m sure you’ve all adjusted. I mean, Rome? Not exactly slumming it, pet. I’m guessing Rupert probably had a few bob ferreted away for just such an occasion, or maybe Anya was willing to loosen up the purse strings a little after you…”
He trailed off when he noticed her serious expression. Buffy simply stared at him in grave realisation.
“You don’t know,” she said.
He gave her a look.
“Recently deceased, remember?” He snorted without humour. “And come to think of it I never did realise just how little you and that brooding sod kept each other clued in on your respective operations. Did you know that some raving bird tried to make this city her own personal utopia not too long ago? Or that some hunk of rubble demon calling himself the Beast managed to block out the sun?” He gestured with a hand. “I mean, I know that absence makes the heart grow fonder and all that, but you would think that at the very least-”
“Anya’s dead.” Buffy regretted how bluntly the words had sounded the moment she had said them. Spike paused with his hand frozen in the air.
“During the battle,” she added. “She was killed by a Bringer. And lots of other girls too. Not everybody made it out.”
Her eyes found the floor, betraying her vulnerability. Spike lowered his raised hand and considered her with fresh eyes. The girl was hurting and he had been acting so defensively he had not even noticed. Harmony lowered her magazine a little.
“Sorry to hear that, pet.”
He didn’t know what else to say to this. Buffy sought to fill the silence any way that she could:
“But, y’know, Xander didn’t lose another eye. Which is something.”
Spike could sense that the topic was a little too raw for her to discuss. It had only been a few short months since Sunnydale had been put permanently out of commission after all. She was still mourning those she had lost. It was not the best time. He got that.
“Heard he’s in Africa,” Spike offered. “Been there myself.”
She frowned quizzically.
“You’ve been to Africa? When did-?” Then it dawned on her. “Oh.”
His soul. He went to Africa to get his soul back. They had spoken about it that last year in Sunnydale, in those brief moments of peace stolen amidst the chaos. She remembered sitting together upon the back porch as he smoked a cigarette, staring out into the empty night with a lantern lighting the darkness around them. She had not pressed him for details. It was simply enough that he had made the gesture.
“I wanted to say thank you,” she said.
Spike titled his head a little.
“For what, love?”
Buffy looked down sheepishly at her hands.
“For, y’know, all of it,” she said. She brought her eyes up again to meet his. “You saved the world, Spike.”
His blue eyes sparkled with amusement.
“Had quite a bit of help in that department, if I recall correctly.”
Buffy smiled at this.
“I know that,” she said. “But for what it’s worth…” Her voice became stronger: “Thank you.”
Spike matched her smile.
“Don’t mention it, pet. Seeing you standing here alive and kicking’s more than thanks enough. And I mean that.”
“Mutual,” she said quietly.
During the course of the conversation Buffy had turned her body increasingly towards his. Now she extended a hand and settled it gently atop his where it rested lightly on the edge of the desk.
“Spike, about what I said-”
She saw a spark of something in his eyes then, but she could not tell what. Spike drew back just a fraction, but it was enough.
The spell was broken.
“Don’t want to keep you,” he muttered. “Come a long way after all. I’m sure you and Angel have a lot to catch up on.”
He withdrew his hand. She felt her fingertips meet the hard surface of the desk, suddenly bereft of his touch.
“You’re leaving?” she said in a small voice.
“Only swung by for a social visit,” he said. “In case you haven’t noticed Captain Forehead doesn’t exactly appreciate my dropping by the office. And I’m not a card-carrying employee of Evil Lawyers R Us, in case you were wondering. Got my own mission. Or at least I did until not so very recently. It’s a long tale of embarrassment and false destinies which I won’t bother to trouble you with.”
Buffy moved away from the desk. Behind her Harmony lowered her magazine still further, feeling slightly emboldened.
“I can come with if you like...”
Spike studied her then and took a deep breath, seeming to have come to a decision.
“No,” he said. “No, you stay here.” He gestured towards the desk. “Make all the expensive transatlantic calls that you like. I’m sure Angel’s got his people working on your insomnia troubles. Shouldn’t be too long with their collective brainpower. They’re good at this sort of thing, especially Fred. Think that girl might even be smarter than your resident witch, which is saying something.”
Buffy nodded absently. So many questions swirled through her mind she did not even know where to start.
“Spike,” she offered. “I’m staying. I mean, until we figure this out. I’ll be around.”
Spike regarded her warmly.
“S’long as you’re happy,” he said.
And with that slight nod of his head, the one that she had come to miss, Spike turned on his heel and walked away. Buffy stared after him with a small smile plastered upon her face.
“Happy, yeah,” she muttered blankly. “That’s me. Just a huge hunk of happiness…”
Angel was not happy.
Lorne sat upon the leather chair in the corner of the vampire’s office, nursing a glass of scotch and watching Angel restlessly pace back and forth before the open doors leading into the conference room next door. It was starting to make him dizzy.
“You look tense, Angel,” he said. “A-are you feeling tense? If you want I could call out my masseuse. Sweet girl. Belts out a mean Aretha Franklin. She’s worked wonders on my lumbago that I couldn’t even begin to-”
“I don’t need a masseuse, Lorne,” Angel said, his voice rising. He turned his gaze to the floor and muttered: “I’m not sure what I need.”
Lorne shook his head.
“Tell me something I don’t know. But we can both agree there’s no need to wear out the patent shoe leather. Have a seat. Take a break. You’ve been running on empty since, heck, since we took over this place. If Cordy was here I’m sure that she would have something to-”
“Don’t.” Angel looked up at him, his voice cracking. “Don’t, please. It hurts. Just hearing her name...”
Lorne lowered his glass of scotch, suddenly melancholy.
“I feel ya, big guy,” he said. “If I wasn’t so afraid that my subconscious would manifest itself in a Boris Karloff-looking creation again I’d be getting my grief removed quicker than you can say, well, ‘good grief’. For now drowning my troubles in a bottle of the brown stuff will have to suffice.”
Lorne took a long gulp of his scotch as Angel settled down upon the leather couch beside him. He did not say anything for a long moment, his hands clasped between his knees as he stared blankly at the carpet.
“Nineteen days,” he muttered. “Buffy said she started having the dreams nineteen days after she left Sunnydale. Is there anything significant about that date to you?”
Lorne considered this, setting his empty glass of scotch upon the table nearby.
“Sure there is,” he said. “That’s around the time we took over Wolfram and Hart, around the time that…” He clocked the significance. “Oh.”
Angel glanced up at him.
“So you’re thinking that these dreams of hers have something to do with Spike getting all un-dusted?”
The vampire’s gaze was unblinking.
“You tell me.”
Lorne gestured helplessly.
“I don’t know what to tell you, big guy. These dreams of hers might be regular Slayer dreams, or they could be something else. Prophetic, even. It’s beyond my ability to tell. All I know is that girl’s feeling some major pain. Guilt. Fear. Anger? All swirling around in that pretty little head of hers. And since Blondie Bear swung by the office her aura’s been getting murkier by the second.”
Angel slouched back against the sofa cushions.
“Maybe it has something to do with the Shanshu prophecy...”
“Could be,” he said. “Or maybe it’s just another run-of-the-mill apocalypse. We’ve haven’t had one of those in, oh, about two months? I’d say we’re probably due another soon.”
Angel leant forwards and put his head in his hands.
“I just wish I knew what it all means,” he muttered.
“Eh, knowledge is overrated.”
They both glanced up to find Buffy standing in the doorway.
“Or so I’ve been told,” she added lamely.
Angel stood up with a start.
“Buffy.” The surprise in his voice was evident. “I thought you’d left.”
“Nope,” she said. “Slayer still in the building.” She glanced aside at Lorne. “If you’d rather…”
Lorne stood up, fishing his jacket from the arm of the chair.
“No need to tell me twice.”
He put a friendly hand on Buffy’s shoulder as he left. She gently closed the door to the office in his wake. There was an awkward silence as she and Angel were left alone.
Angel voiced the question before Buffy had a chance to ask it: “Where’s Spike?”
Buffy stepped a little closer, closing the distance between them.
“I don’t know,” she said slowly. “I thought he might be with you.”
“The thing about me and Spike...” Angel frowned. “Does the term ‘seething resentment’ mean anything to you?”
Buffy smiled good-naturedly.
“Relax, Angel. I’m not here to force the two of you to hug it out.” She paused in her steps. “Although that might not be such a bad idea...”
“I heard you have a lead on my dreams of Technicolor badness.”
“What? Oh yeah. The guys are working on it upstairs.”
“Good,” she said. “That’s good. The sooner we figure this out then the sooner…”
“You can leave?”
“Figure this out,” she finished. “But, y’know, if you’re really so eager to get rid of me then I can just…”
She made to leave.
“Buffy,” he said. She turned back again. “I didn’t mean…” He sighed. “You’re welcome to stay as long as you need. There are apartments upstairs. I mean, only if you want to. Until we figure this out.”
“Thank you,” she said. “But the whole olive-branch-extending? Not really necessary. I already checked into a hotel this morning. It’s not exactly the Ritz, but…”
Angel gave an ironic smile.
“If only you’d come to stay here a year ago.”
“I’m really grateful for the help,” she told him. “Really. But I’m still all with the benefit of a doubt, here. Giles doesn’t even know that I came. He wasn’t exactly supportive of the round-the-world trip.”
“He sent Andrew,” Angel pointed out. “And we both know how that worked out. One minute I’ve got a psychotic vampire slayer on my hands, the next a dozen girls come marching out of the shadows and I’m getting double-crossed by someone who thinks it’s pronounced ‘vampyr’.”
She caught the trajectory of his meaning.
“I didn't send him to spy on you, Angel.”
“Word is that nobody in your camp trusts me,” he said pointedly.
She lifted her chin.
“Yes. But that’s not why-”
“I thought you said we weren’t on the same side.”
“That depends. What side are you playing for these days?” He turned away at this. She had obviously touched a nerve. “Oh, come on, Angel. Let’s not kid ourselves. You’re heading up an evil multi-dimensional law firm and Harmony is working as your secretary. It’s not exactly the stuff that champions are made of.”
“Then why did you come here?” he said heatedly.
“I was worried about you,” she said. “I came here to make sure that you were okay.”
Angel did not back down.
“You could have called.”
“And said what?” She laughed derisively. “Maybe you’ve forgotten, but you and me? We were never that great with the talking.”
“I’m not sure if you’ve noticed,” he said angrily, “but you’re the one who hasn’t exactly made an effort to keep the lines of communication open this past year.”
“Oh no,” she growled. “Do not try and lay this on me, Angel.”
“I’m not,” he insisted. “I just…” He sighed. “I just didn’t want to see you get hurt. It’s Spike, for god’s sake.”
“Yes it is,” she said. “And you’ve already proven more than once that you don’t know the last thing about him. Not anymore.”
Angel’s voice rose in turn.
“And you think that you’re Little Miss Well Informed?” he said “You have no idea what’s going on here, or why I make the decisions that I make. You just traipsed off to Europe with barely a phone call.”
“Oh come on Angel, what was I supposed to think? You come back making all these vague promises about being in the fight with me shoulder to shoulder. Then I find out you’ve just sold your soul for thirty pieces of silver. So no, I didn’t come to L.A. to see you. Can ya really blame me? I felt betrayed. I thought you had turned your back on me, again. Unless you’ve forgotten you kinda have this habit of turning evil and killing people.”
“Perfect happiness, remember?” he growled. “That’s what it takes. And you can’t give me that anymore. Nobody can.” She swallowed hard at this. “I’m about as far away from it as I ever was. Every time I think I’m getting close something else gets taken away from me. It never ends, Buffy. I can’t win this.”
“And you think that I can?” she said, her voice a bit softer. “Remember what I told you, Angel. Up on that bluff. Fighting is every day. And it’s hard. But that’s why we do it.”
“Hard?” he said. “You have no idea what I’m up against. Everyday since I took over this place I’ve seen evil at work. It eats away at your very soul. You can’t stop it. Can’t kill it. And that’s something you will never understand.”
“And what is that supposed to mean?”
“It means that you got to finish!” he snapped. She was taken aback by the bitterness in his voice. “You won your fight, Buffy. Meanwhile I’m getting handed the keys to the kingdom, sacrificing everything I’ve ever fought for in order to protect the people that I love, and all that I get in return is…” He stopped himself. Then he lowered his voice and said: “I don’t get the luxury of early retirement.”
“So that’s it,” Buffy said, taking a step back in astonishment. “You think that I have it all figured out, that I rode out into the proverbial sunset with my hero cape a’ flowing. Is that it?” He glanced away. “And what about you, huh? When you came to Sunnydale you were like pod-Angel, all chipper and too-good-to-be-true with the James Bond suave! Did you just regress a few years as soon as you stepped inside the city limits?”
“It was an escape,” he said quietly. “L.A. got rough.”
“Don’t I know it,” she muttered in reply. He turned away to the window. “But I know you, Angel. There’s more to this. There’s something you’re not telling me.”
Angel leant his shoulder against the glass and stared down at the lights of the city below. They washed over his face in a golden hue.
“There are a lot of things I don’t tell you,” he said. “Somehow it’s easier that way.”