Something was wrong; Buffy could feel it as she moved restlessly in her sleep. She kept searching for the latest demon to attack them, but couldn’t find its hiding place. The sudden movement of the vampires on either side of her jumping from the bed brought her fully awake.
Somewhere in the apartment, Dawn was screaming. The heavy acrid scent of smoke was filling the air. Spike and Angel were already out the door before Buffy could even get out of the bed. Sleep and emotions slowed her reactions. Her lungs were filling with the searing stench, making her cough as she scrambled from the bed. Dawn yelled again, and Buffy dashed down the hallway. Protecting her sister was more important than her own discomfort or safety. She skidded into the kitchen right behind Angel and Spike. Looking around she didn’t see any flames, just smoke pouring from something in the sink while Andrew was busily fanning a towel in the direction of the window that Dawn was desperately trying to open.
It took Buffy only a second to figure out that Andrew had experienced yet another cooking disaster. He honestly tried, but sometimes his best efforts just weren’t good enough. Shaking with relief and amusement, she started to giggle while she watched the other four take care of the situation. Spike got the window open setting off an alarm that joined in chorus with the already shrill screech of the smoke alarm. Angel was trying to drown whatever the burnt mess was in the sink, and Andrew continued his frantic waving to clear the air.
“It’s Dawn’s fault,” Andrew declared, before anyone could ask. “I leave for just a moment so that I could take care of some business, and what does she do? She gets lost in some stupid kiddie movie while my soufflé turns to ash.”
“Oh, bull crap.” Dawn advanced on Andrew, but kept safely out of the way of the brandished towel. “You said you would only be gone a second. But, no, you go to the bathroom and got lost in some comic book.” She pointed a finger at the young man. “It’s your own fault. You knew that whatever that was needed to be watched.” Her arms crossed her middle. “I’m like Buffy. I don’t cook. You know that…so it’s your fault”
“It was Soufflé au Fromage for a romantic reunion dinner for the ménage a trois. But because you got all sighy about some hunk of the week, it is now ruined.”
By then, Spike was chuckling too, but Angel was standing there confused. His hands were in his pockets as he stared mystified at the quarreling between the two young people. For Buffy it was normal. It made life normal. Now it was her turn in the routine they’d played out a hundred times before.
“Stop it. Both of you.” She tried to sound stern but the laughter was still there, coating her words with a playful note. “Come on. Let’s get this cleaned up and get the damn alarms off.”
She started for the closet to grab the broom to get the smoke alarm off when four men carrying guns rushed into the kitchen. Automatically, she pushed Dawn and Andrew behind her in a protective stance. For the first time Angel acted.
“It’s okay, guys. False alarm.” Angel waved his hands in front of this face as if the smoke would magically disappear. “Cooking disaster.”
Within the next two seconds, the outside alarm was turned off and the end of a gun turned the smoke alarm off. They helped with clearing the air of smoke, and did a quick inspection of the penthouse before leaving. By this time, Buffy couldn’t help it. She sank to the floor with her hands covering her face.
“Buffy, are you okay?” Angel knelt beside her, rubbing her back with tender strokes. “It’s all over with.”
His worry only added to her overwrought emotions. She threw her head back as she laughed. “I’m fine. Oh god, I love this.”
“She’s lost her mind.” Spike commented coming to stand in front of her with his hands on his hips. He stared down at her for a moment. “What the bloody hell has gotten into you?”
“How can you laugh? My dinner is ruined. It was a surprise for the three of you and it’s destroyed.”
Only Dawn seemed to understand as she plopped down next to Buffy, putting her arms around Buffy as she continued with a fit of giggles. She kissed her sister’s cheek.
“You feel it don’t you? Finally after all these years, you feel it, don’t you?”
The laughter immediately stopped. Dawn clarified it all in those few words.
“Yeah, I do.” Buffy cupped Dawn’s cheek, caressing the miracle that was her sister.
“Well, would you mind explaining it to those of us who don’t understand?” Spike said, even as he took the two women’s outstretched hands to pull them up. He didn’t even look upset when Buffy immediately pulled Angel to her, but he smiled when she reached for him next.
“I’m home. For the first time since before I was called, I feel like I’m home…I’m where I’m meant to be.”
Arms tightened around her even while Dawn and Andrew joined them.
“Yes, group hug…we’re a family.”
“Watch it, punk, we can always do without one of us.” Spike muttered, since Andrew was mostly wrapped around him.
Buffy felt something wet hit slip across her cheek and she looked up to see Angel silently crying. “What’s wrong? Angel?”
“Family…that’s all. Something…nothing.” He shook his head. “You know I don’t deal well with this kind of thing.”
Dawn pulled away from Buffy and surprising them all, she wrapped her arms around Angel in a tight hug. However, what was even more surprising was that he hugged her back. Buffy looked at Spike for an explanation, but he only shrugged his shoulders.
Something was up, and she was getting ready to ask what it was when Angel still holding Dawn looked up at them.
“There’s something else that I need to tell you, but now is not the time. When this thing with The Immortal is over, I’ll explain everything. Can you trust me?”
“Yes,” Spike said immediately.
Buffy hesitated, but realized that whatever it was, Dawn knew. It irked her for a moment and she almost demanded the truth be told now. Yet she forced herself to take a deep breath. If this life was to work between them, and she knew this was where she belonged, she needed to let go and trust. She reached out and took Angel’s hand.
“Yes, I’ll wait until you’re ready, but if it becomes too much, we’re here.”
Thankfully, Andrew was the one who broke the awkward scene about to happen. He pulled back and whined; “We so need that soufflé. This moment deserves a celebration.”
“I think you forget that vampires don’t need food for sustenance,” Dawn explained as if she was speaking to a child. “Only blood. While Spike does eat for enjoyment, Angel does not. So, why do you feel…?”
“Do you need to take the romance and adventure out of everything?” Andrew fired back. He waved his hands. “This is one of those life changing times that needs something to commemorate that time, you know like when…”
“Stop,” Buffy demanded, before Andrew could go into a long explanation of one of his favorite stories. “Look, just make some sandwiches or something and heat up some blood. It will be fine. Okay?”
“None of you have a romantic bone in your body.” Andrew muttered even though he headed for the refrigerator.
While Buffy went to sit at the table, he did as she’d instructed, pulling out deli meats and other sandwich fixings from the refrigerator. Dawn went over to help Andrew while Spike and Angel sat at the table with Buffy, who had decided it was time to get the game rolling.
“Okay, if our life is on hold because of The Immortal, then we need to start making some plans. I want this over with and soon.”
“We need to do this with patience,” Angel explained. “I know it’s hard but we need to make sure that everyone believes we’ve gone evil again. All three of us, now that you’re here, too.”
“It shouldn’t be too hard for me. I don’t have anything to do with the operations of Wolfram and Hart.” Buffy accepted a plate from Dawn holding a thick ham sandwich and a pile of potato chips. She put it on the table, pushing it slightly away from her. Food wasn’t really interesting her at the moment. “I just need to go along with the two of you. A big show would look just like that…an act to prove something.”
The two young people sat in the empty chairs. It was apparent they were ready to get into the strategy meeting. Dawn even had a pad of paper beside her plate.
“What do we do?” Andrew asked, picking up his sandwich that seemed to be about four layers of meat, cheese and bread. “Dawn and I? We can do research, scouting out locations, following the enemy.”
“Right now, I want you to lie low. Stay here. I have a feeling that The Immortal is going to play his hand soon and I want to know that you’re safe until we know his plan of attack. Once we know that then we can draw the two of you, plus Buffy in a little more. Make more of a show.” Angel explained, giving them each a look that clearly told them to follow his instructions. “There’ll be plenty of time for this to play off. The most important thing is for Spike and I to get in with the Senior Partners and find out more about the Black Thorn.”
Buffy felt someone curl the end of a lock of her hair around their finger. She looked up to find Spike looking at her in concern.
“You need to eat, pet. If you’re going to help in the fight, then we’re going to need you in top form.”
“Sorry, I guess I’m not very hungry.” Yet, she picked up the sandwich and took a bite.
“You also need to get back to training. It’s good that there’s a workout room here in the penthouse,” Dawn commented, scribbling on her notepad.
“There is?” Buffy asked. She looked between her lovers with a curious stare. She hadn’t seen any training room, and wondered how Dawn knew if she didn’t.
“Yes.” Angel gave Dawn a glare. “How do you know about the training room?”
“We needed to survey the premises…find the weak locations and the best places to hide if need be,” Andrew explained. “So, we walked through the entire apartment today so that we could enter all the data into the computer…”
“Shut up,” Spike snapped. “Obviously, there’s not going to be any privacy with the two of you around.” His gaze softened as he turned his eyes to Buffy. “The training room is behind our bedroom. It’s large and has a lot of equipment. Don’t think you’ll have need of anything in order to get into a complete routine.”
“Cool.” Buffy smiled. It would feel good to get back into top physical shape again. The training would also help her to burn off any negative emotions so she could focus on the situation at hand. Nodding, she picked up her sandwich and took a large bite. It seemed that things were beginning to shape up. Too bad it seemed almost too easy.
to be continued…