Cordelia stood in the doorway to
the library. Wes had brought out the prophesy research again
and he and Giles apparently hadn't been to bed. Giles seemed
engrossed in Spike's translation notes but Wes gave her a weary
Riley poked his head out of the storage area off of the pantry and came out with a new package of paper plates. Two large boxed packages of sweet rolls from Sam's Club were stacked on the table. Cordelia opened one and helped herself to a cinnamon roll while waiting for the coffee to finish brewing.
"Who got breakfast?" she asked, hoping she sounded casual. Riley was pretty much Angel's project and Graham rarely let the young man out of his sight, but the last twenty-four hours had put an unusual amount of stress on all of them. She didn't want to seem as if she didn't trust the recovering addict, but she knew if she were him, she would have been tempted to seek some sort of comfort, or oblivion.
"We... I had trouble sleeping, so I just gave up. I knew we would need something for this horde... Graham drove... I didn't -" he said.
"I wasn't checking up - I just feel bad sticking you guys with the bills. Okay, that's so not me, but I told Angel he could pay for the rest of the week since Graham covered the caterer. Make sure you guys turn in the receipt to be reimbursed," she said, while filling her mug. Sipping the bitter black liquid she continued, "How are you? With all of this."
Riley sagged into a chair and looked up at her, "It's hard. This... you have no idea."
"Seeing Buffy?" Cordy asked.
"Buffy, Faith, Graham dealing with Buffy and Faith," Riley said, "He's pretty stressed."
"How can you tell?" she asked, with a smile.
"Very funny," Riley said.
Exhausted, Angel watched from the
doorway. He worried that the spell Willow had used to gain compliance
from the lawyer would tax Lilah beyond her endurance. As she
settled into a deeper sleep, Xander shuffled though the
Tara and Willow each took a seat on the sofa, leaning against one another. They had done what Xander referred to as 'the core dump' in one of the unfinished suites on the third floor. They all seemed to be hovering close to the room in which they had placed the Glory-Buffy symbiont, who was now under Spike's watchful attendance.
"Well," Xander said, looking up from the notes, "that's about it. Anyone have any other questions?"
"She'll come after you, you know," Lindsey said. "She's like a pit bull."
"Cordy-like, huh?" Xander said to Lindsey with a wink. "Okay, wipe her clean and have Faith and Gunn dump her near the site," he added to Willow.
"Wipe her clean?" Angel asked, as Xander passed him on his way out into the hall.
Behind him, Angel heard Willow chanting, "Tabula rasa."
Buffy sat back against the headboard
of the bed, blinking into the dim. She was aware she had a guardian,
silent and still, sitting off to her left. She really hadn't
paid attention to the room - now she did. It was large,
She must have been sitting a while
in the broad bed, which was in an alcove off the better-lit part
of the room that was her world, as her bottom felt numb. She
couldn't remember how she had gotten here, nor how long she had
been staring at the dated furnishings. The bed shared its nook
with a sturdy desk and a straight-backed chair on one side, and
an overstuffed loveseat next to a small round table on the other.
Just outside the arch that sectioned the private portion of the
open suite off from its public area were two couches and a chair
around a low coffee table. Past that grouping of furniture was
a long, low bureau that had a lit lamp with a shade of
Pleased that she had puzzled out her surroundings, a tiny smile almost made it to her face. She was torn between sitting still longer in her quiet, dim surroundings while trying to figure just how long she had been staring at the room and bolting though that door and running for her life. Deep in her gut some instinct was screaming at her, trying to wake up that sleep voice of reason with dire threats and warnings. Adrenaline, which the sleepy part of her mind ignored like a little sister's whining, had been flooding her system ever since she had realized she wasn't alone in this quiet haven. On her right, lounging in that loveseat, was a dangerous-looking blonde man whose intelligent blue eyes hadn't left her for a moment. Something about his stillness was unnatural. Where Buffy sat quietly thinking, he stayed completely and utterly still. He hadn't moved. He hadn't blinked. He hadn't breathed since she realized he was there. Something stirred in her memory...normally the not-breathing would precede a flurry of movement and violence - but somehow she felt safe with this man. What was up with that?
As the voice of reason and the
voice of instinct competed for the attention and vied for a chance
to answer that question, the door opened and a girl came in with
a silver tray. She set the tray on the bureau, between the lamp
and a large ball-like bowl which must have once held flowers.
After she shut the door she picked up her burden and brought
it to the alcove. As she was placing the tray on the table next
to the loveseat, the girl shot Buffy
"I brought coffee and juice
and water and milk...she likes juice. I thought maybe one of
these might... Well, not this one, of course," the girl
handed the man a mug and was reward with a smile. He patted the
seat next to him
Buffy didn't turn her head toward the couple, but watched from the corner of her eye. She was busy ignoring the voice of instinct, which was now jumping up and down, waving its arms and screaming 'told you, told you' at the top of its lungs. The voice of reason was noting how the vampire - which this man obviously was - idly stroked the girl's long hair with one hand while draining his 'victim' from a mug which said 'I brood because I know it makes me look good.'
"She's still out of it," the girl said. The vampire only answered with a nod. to the girl's statement. "Do you think her brain was damaged? You know, Glory was never too tightly wrapped."
Glory? Glory. That name seemed to bring reason and instinct both into a fighting stance, but Buffy couldn't remember who Glory was.
The girl sighed. She got up and brought a yummy-smelling mug closer and waved it slowly about eight inches in front of and below Buffy's nose. "Buffy?" The girl hardly whispered and her eyes were tearing. "It's mocha. Smell? You love mocha."
The cup was black with bright pink letters spelling 'Uberangst' and a sad, sighing bunny leaned against the 'U'. The smell stirred the most coherent memories yet. Buffy flashed on a bright sunny day, sitting across from was a bouncing redhead with happy green eyes, who was talking at an incredible rate. Then she was back in the room with the sad girl holding out the good smell. She smiled tentatively at the girl. A wide smile crossed the girl's face and she slowly brought the cup to Buffy's lips. The taste exploded across her tongue. She flashed on another sunny scene. The grass they were sitting on was cool in the shade of an ornamental tree near a red brick building, and a handsome boy with dancing chocolate eyes was laughing as he offered her half his candy bar.
The girl apparently had given up trying to get her to drink more. By the time Buffy gave up on chasing the elusive memories of the redheaded girl and the handsome boy, the girl was back on the loveseat next to the vampire. Buffy had been pulled out of her pondering of the flashes of memory by his slow, dramatic voice. His accented tones wrapped around a story that tugged at her memory as insistently as the coffee had.
"She was down. I had her at my non-existent mercy. I wanted to savor the moment. My third Slayer - struck down on her own ground... I felt like a god. I dove for the kill, ready to sink my fangs in and taste that unparalleled elixir." The vampire was sitting cross-legged and eye-to-eye with the girl, who hung on his every word.
The girl leaned forward in rapt attention, her forehead almost touching the smooth human mask of the dead man. "And then?" she asked with breathless anticipation.
"Then your mum hit me upside
the head with and axe and said, 'Get the hell away from my daughter.'
Nibblet, you know this story by heart, why do you always act
like its the first time you've heard it?" There was laughing
"I love this story. It's so romantic..." she said.
"It is not sodding romantic," the vampire sneered out the last word and rolled his eyes. "I got me bleeding skull cracked by a pissed-off housewife, the Slayer stopped the feast of St. Vigeous, and the Poof nanced about like the wanker he is. Where's the effin romance in that?"
"It's when Angel gave Xander to you." The girl giggled. Buffy got the impression that the girl was baiting the vampire. Her instinct said she should throw herself between the girl and the monster, but her reason said to wait and see.
Buffy's head seemed to turn of its own volition and she looked as the vampire sputtered out his reply. "Gave!? Dawn, he gave... he wanted us to eat Xander. And not in a good way, I might add. Don't you dare tell the whelp I said that! Besides, Soul Boy really wasn't givin' the boy to me... I knew that. Always could read the Poof like an open book. Great sodding fairycake." The girl raised an eyebrow and smirked at the vampire but said nothing.
Buffy looked back to the door when she heard the knob turn. In walked the boy, the handsome boy from her memory. Only he wasn't a boy. His shoulders were broader, his hair longer and there was a maturity to his face that was new to her. He was a man. How much time had passed since that sunny day under the tree? He was still handsome, but his eyes - though they still held laughter - were shaded by worry and an emotional pain she couldn't fathom.
He walked forward and put his hands in the pockets of his pants as he stood at the foot of her bed. "Hi, Buff."
She blinked and looked into his dark eyes. There was concern and unasked questions in them and she smiled. "Xander," she whispered, before she had even put the name to his face.
His smile was like the sun coming from behind a cloud. The girl, who the vampire - Spike? - had called Dawn, jumped up and grabbed Xander's arm. Dawn bounced up and down while tugging that arm with her, chanting, "She knows you! She knows you!" She stopped her impromptu celebration and turned to Buffy. "Buffy?"
Buffy was busy at the moment. The memory of Xander had been accompanied by a flood of images.
Xander and her running with Willow, a name she now had for the girl in the other memory, through a cemetery.
Crawling frantically through air vents with monsters hot on their heels.
Xander looking down at her as he pinned her to the floor every muscle in his body vibrating with lust.
The burning pain of air being forced back into her lungs and the sick bile-like taste of death in her mouth.
The rage in Xander's eyes when he threatened to kill her if Willow had been hurt.
Xander, dressed as a soldier, beating the hell out of a pirate who had been about to rape her.
Xander reaching down to pull her up from the watery cage as pain ripped through the claw marks on her legs.
Angry words and a zombie crashing through the front window.
Xander, Larry and another boy laying out explosives in the library.
Her relief of finding Xander in the Bronze when she had been so lost and alone her first days at college.
Four hands placing cards into the center of a circle.
Xander following her from the alley to a warehouse and pulling no punches as his words lay bare her soul.
Xander holding Dawn beside her mother's grave.
Xander repairing a window she had broken.
A wrecking ball knocking the hellgod off her feet.
Buffy blinked. Three faces regarded her with concern. Xander had the scared-looking girl - Dawn, she reminded herself - wrapped in his arms. Buffy smiled. "Xander," she said again. "I remember you. You're my friend."
Xander smiled back. Not the blinding grin he had offered before, that seemed so much more natural to him; instead, a tired but genuine smile. "I am. I have always been and will always be your friend, Buffy." The vampire stepped closer to Dawn and Xander. Something about that seemed odd, but before she could wonder about it Xander asked, "Recognize anyone else?"
"I..." She didn't know
what to say. She knew that the other two people were called Spike
and Dawn, but did that mean she recognized them? She needed more
time. She felt safe now. Unlike the confusing times she had awoken
Gunn handed Faith the binoculars once he saw Lilah emerge from the parking garage. The tiny brunette frowned as she looked all the way across the small park they had parked beside to watch the entrance of the building. They were about a half a mile from the disaster site, close enough that Lilah could walk there if she chose but far enough to be away from the crowds.
Another one of Willow's 'little
nudges' had ensured that neither Gunn's truck nor its occupants
would register on any surveillance cameras that were in the garage.
Forty minutes ago, they had driven through the parking area
The destruction of the building,
along with it being a holiday weekend, had kept most of the commuter
traffic away, but the streets were still alive with people. Faith
passed the binoculars back to Gunn and he watched Lilah
She started to walk in the direction
of the site on which the Wolfram and Hart building used to exist.
She still cradled her hand to her chest. Gunn started the truck
and followed well back at a crawl. Lilah stumbled as she
Gunn grinned at Faith and said, "Mission accomplished."
Her answering smile lit up the cab of the truck.
"So," he asked, feeling suddenly self-conscious. "You want to go back and watch Angel stress over the news, or would you like to go get something to eat?"
"I vote for food," Faith laughed.
Being dead, he shouldn't be able to get migraines. Angel sat at his desk, cradling his head in his hands. He had thought he had been prepared. Really. Not that he expected a calm week - Spike always had been poster boy for ADD and Xander had apparently kissed what little sense of self-preservation he had been born with goodbye; add Lindsey's presence to the mix and chaos was a given. Chaos was nothing compared to this.
The first floor of the hotel vibrated
with the sound coming from the salle off the lobby. It had originally
been the atrium back in the Hyperion's heyday. Boards had replaced
the shattered windows over the years, and Angel
He thought he had anticipated the
worst. That was the whole point of brooding - to be prepared
for every contingency - wasn't it? He had factored in the nebulous
prophesy and Lindsey snarking about, Riley's reluctance to face
the Scoobies, even Xander's new status as his Childe's mate.
None of his careful planning had ended with every network on
television endlessly looping the mysterious melting of a downtown
LA office building into a
Buffy's return had shaken everyone
in different ways. Riley was practically invisible. Faith had
been wary and defensive; thankfully, Gunn had distracted her
and taken her out of the now-crowded hotel and had offered to
Angel got up, intent on telling
the mischief twins to turn down the volume. He paused as he passed
the door of the library. Giles and Lindsey were at opposite ends
of the long table with books - open and being compared or closed
with white satin ribbons marking pages - strewn between them.
Lindsey was absorbed in a heavy volume which was resting in his
lap while he jotted notes on a legal pad. The blunt, black writing
didn't seem to say 'kill,
"How can you to get any work done with all this noise?" Angel asked.
Giles tucked his amused look back into his notes and Lindsey looked at Angel like he doubted his intelligence, more than usual. Lindsey spoke slowly, as if to a child. "That's Carlos Santana."
Knowing any reply would leave him
open to ridicule by the quick-witted ex-lawyer, and doubting
his ability to keep from killing the potential participant in
the prophesy, Angel continued back to the salle. He stopped
"It's like a dance." Fred whispered.
The guitar solo ended and the words slid out of the speakers of the portable system.
"And if you say this life
ain't good enough
And just like the ocean under the
On the last line, Xander grabbed Spike's wrist, pulling him off balance and then caught him as he stumbled. They stood, staring into each other's eyes, oblivious to their audience. Xander leaned forward slowly, ghosting a kiss against Spike's lips before burying his face in the blonde's neck. Inhaling deeply, the human then sighed with pleasure, eliciting an answering purr from his mate.
"Xander," Spike whispered.
Xander didn't lift his head. Instead, he sank his teeth into the corded muscle along Spike's neck, causing the vampire to throw back his head and shift to gameface.
"Xander." This time it came out as a moan.
Fred inhaled softly, jarring Angel
from the scene in front of them. Her eyes were the size of saucers
and Angel could have kicked himself for not stopping it sooner.
He cleared his throat loudly. Not, however, loud enough
"You have a room," he said, finally managing to get their attention.
"That we do, luv," Spike said with a smirk and lead his lover out of the salle at a rapid pace.
Fred frowned at Angel and then shrugged. "Dawn's right," she said. "They're so romantic."
 Smooth - Carlos Santana
Xander blinked. He was unaware of just how long he had lay lost in thought, but it was late afternoon. Spike was dozing while curled against him on the bed. Xander was sure if he ever called the vampire on being a closet cuddler, Spike would just gripe about being cold - regardless of the sweltering temperatures.
It was actually bearable in the unairconditioned hotel with the ceiling fan's soft, artificial breeze. The heavily draped widows kept out the sun's heat and since only the bottom few floors were in use the old elevator shafts acted as chimneys, letting the heat rise to the vacant floors. Xander rubbed soothing circles on Spike's back hoping to lull his room-temperature lover deeper into a light sleep. The whole lack of breathing thing gave Spike a huge advantage in making Xander unaware of if the vampire were asleep or awake. Xander had a lot to think about. He didn't want Giles to have to solve the Glory-Buffy dilemma himself and despite the talk he had had with Spike, Xander was nervous about how Buffy being alive, so to speak, would affect them all.
Dawn was distraught over Buffy's confusion, fearing that Buffy would never regain the memories they all shared of Dawn before she had been really sent to them. Xander wished he had the words to put her at ease. It really didn't matter to him how real the memories were, she was theirs, plain and simple. Xander had spent a long time after his very first meeting Giles and Buffy contemplating reality and perception. He didn't have any fancy degrees like Miller and Finn, or centuries of experience like Angel and Spike, but he knew what felt right. After losing Jessie and almost seeing the world sucked into hell the first time, Xander had decided that drawing the lines between fantasy and truth came in second to the people you loved.
Willow, he was sure, would be looking for a spell to 'fix' this. He would need to make sure she didn't take too much on. He sent up a pray of thanks that Spike had been able to put that horrifying idea Willow had been researching, of resurrecting Buffy, out of the witch's head. His heart-sib had suffered debilitating, recurring nightmares for weeks after they had lost Buffy. Looking into Willow's exhausted eyes, Xander had been on the verge of offering to participate in any ritual she wanted to spare her that pain. She was sure Buffy was languishing away in some hell-dimension. Oddly enough, it had been Spike's sarcastic ridicule of the idea that had dissuaded her. His rude comments about how unfair it was that all Slayers got a 'get outta hell free' card which allowed them to be utter bints when alive and still skip through the pearly gates had prevented Willow from venturing into some pretty scary magic.
Xander wasn't sure where Lindsey fit in. He knew Angel thought he needed him for that prophesy Wes had Spike translate, but Deadboy sure didn't seem to like the guy, although the trick he had pulled with the music had proved useful in putting Buffy back into the driver's seat. The more time Glory spent in control the more groggy Buffy would seem when she came back. If they could keep her with them the bulk of the time, she might start to remember Dawn again.
Abruptly, his view of the decorative molding on the ceiling was suddenly obstructed by a pair of glaring yellow eyes. Xander smiled. Lifting his hand, he traced Spike's new piercing with his finger. He pulled Spike's slight, muscular body on top of him and sighed. He had not only been brooding, he had been caught brooding. Once reassured that Xander's attention was firmly back where it should be - on him - Spike snuggled *strike that - vampires do not snuggle* buried his face in Xander's neck.
Gunn parked his jeep around the side of the old hotel. Faith was in high spirits, since their assignment had gone so smoothly. He had suggested they work out. The hotel was hushed without the blaring music from earlier that day. As they headed down to the parking level to warm up on the heavy bag, she noticed that Wes had finally taken a break from the prophesy research; the conference room was dim and empty. She assumed most of the others were napping as it was moving into the late afternoon and the hottest part of the day.
Gunn detoured toward the kitchen and said he would fetch some drinks and sent Faith ahead. Faith stepped back in surprise as she entered the lower level. At the sound of her footsteps on the stair, Riley had turned with a wide grin. His face had almost comically transformed into an expression that mirrored the shock Faith felt.
"Uhm...I was just," he said. He gestured vaguely at the free weights as his eyes darted nervously past her to the stairs.
Faith stepped aside, not wanting him to feel trapped, disappointed in her inability to say anything that wouldn't make both of them feel more awkward. She had never bought into all the twelve-step shit they dealt out at the weekly counseling sessions. Making amends might work if all you did was drugs or alcohol, but she had betrayed a sacred duty and used the strength given to her to serve mankind to harm and kill those she was meant to protect. Still, she thought, even though an apology wasn't enough to make up for using Riley in the guise of Buffy, she hadn't given him even that yet. Steeling herself for the rejection she was sure would follow, she took a deep breath and impulsively she touched his arm just as he went to pass by. "Wait," she said.
He tensed and pulled his arm away and she regretted acting so hastily, but knew if she didn't speak now she would lose her nerve. "I'm sorry," she said. "For everything. I know... I know it doesn't make up for anything, for what I did to you, what I did to B. I know it was wrong and... you didn't deserve it. Neither of you did."
"Well," Riley swallowed hard. He ran his palms nervously over his forearms, smoothing the hairs that had stood on end.
Relief swept over Riley's face. Graham stopped briefly at the bottom of the stairs. He looked calmly at Faith. She knew little about him other than his name, but he had given her a wide berth since she had arrived. Without a word he moved to stand at Riley's side. A light bulb came on in her head and Faith realized that they were together. So, on top of facing the woman who had ridden him into the ground using his lover's body, the poor kid had to face the same lover resurrected now that he had apparently started to move on.
"It's okay," Riley said. "You weren't yourself."
Faith found herself returning the self-conscious smile Finn sported when he realized his unintentional play on words, given that she hadn't been in her own body.
"It's okay?" Graham said with disbelief.
Gunn's arrival with the sports drinks brought back rather than dissipated the awkward tension.
Tara opened the door to Buffy's suite only a few inches. She peeked in, smiling tentatively at Lindsey. At his nod she opened the door wider and with her arm sheltering Dawn, steered the girl into the suite and over to the bed. Dawn shifted from foot to foot. Buffy had stayed present for hours now and was drifting in her own thoughts less. Lindsey watched as Buffy smiled at her 'sister'. She patted the bed and Dawn perched as if she would jump away at the first sign of Glory coming back.
McDonald nodded again to the shy blonde witch. She came over and sat next to him on the loveseat, probably more to give the sisters some time together than to keep him company. He found Tara's presence very soothing. He didn't stop the soft chords he was strumming. He appreciated that she had told him the truth, as far as she knew it, regarding the various blood and romantic ties which knit together these two independent fighting units for the Powers That Be. Although, given the news loops he had caught on television, she had seriously discounted just how dangerous this group of friends was.
Buffy had probably told him more than Angel would like. He was still unclear on just what was causing her memory loss of her sister. He dare not ask given how protective they all seemed of Dawn. He had no illusions about his life expectancy if William the Bloody or his apparently insane mate thought he might be threatening to the girl. Given what he had seen the tiny red haired witch do to Lilah, he wasn't even sure his thoughts were his own right now He was sure that he wanted away from Angel. If he ran though, he would now have the vampire and Wolfram and Hart after him. He wasn't up to the pressure of standing up to the firm. Some nebulous prophesy was not reason enough to risk being in the same city as his old employers. He had his doubts about Angel's ability to keep him out of their clutches. Xander, despite his casual violence, or perhaps because of it, seemed to have a much clearer picture of just how dangerous a game the souled vampire was playing in pitting his tiny agency against a multinational organization with ties to the powers of darkness.
He had tuned out the hushed voice of the girl but Lindsey's attention was drawn back at the sound of Buffy's hushed words.
"I remember...when you cut yourself and being... I was so afraid. I remember Mom... finding her, and the funeral -- all those hours waiting in the hospital. Did I really let Spike babysit?" Buffy turned a confused look to Tara. The witch nodded enthusiastically and offered an encouraging smile.
"What's up?" Xander asked. He didn't open his eyes and remained sprawled in one of the two wingback chairs clustered by the desk.
Angel sat down behind his desk, not for the first time regretting that Wesley had taken over his office when he had taken over the agency. Even though he had requested the meeting, the vampire was surprised to find Xander waiting for him. He had expected the young man to remain in bed most of the rest of the day. True, the witches has been the most physically drained by the assault on the law firm, but Angel had seen just how much energy the young man had poured into the planning and executing of the breakout. Xander also had the added demands of catering to Spike's endless energy.
Angel took a moment to contemplate his Childe's mate. Healthy and tan, Xander was flexible enough to sprawl bonelessly across the chair, yet had bulked up from the skinny boy who had stood up to Angelus not so very long ago. His long legs were bare in a pair of obscenely short cutoffs and he wore a red tee shirt with black writing that said 'C.O.T.H. Woodshop And Demolition Team'. Perhaps the most disturbing thing about the silkscreen was that it looked mass produced, as if it were part of some Hellmouth souvenir franchise. Angel's visions of a market for clothing that said 'I went to Boca del Inferno and all I got was possessed.' was interrupted by a laughing pair of brown eyes.
"Deadboy? You interrupted sex for this. Spill." Xander swung his legs off the arm of the chair and assumed a more upright position.
Charles Gunn waited patiently for the young woman to regain her composure. In the short time he had known the fiercely beautiful young Slayer he had begun to feel more than just an attraction for her. He felt connected with Faith on a level that frankly scared him. He saw a great deal of himself in her. She seemed so alone and he wondered if she wasn't an example of what could have happened to him if he hadn't been dragged into this ookie little family that the cheerleader-cum-seer and the odd, brooding souled vampire had formed out of what was essentially a bunch of cast-off misfits.
The recent confrontation with Riley had shocked the hell out of him. It was hard to believe that this vibrant soul had been doing hard time for murder. Then again, after losing Alana he had come damn close to killing Angel. He couldn't admit it to himself then, but he knew now that if he had been able to kill the vampire who had been trying to help him, then he would have crossed a line that would have led to humans. Faith had crossed that line-more than once.
Seeing that Angel was having a meeting off of the lobby Gunn led Faith upstairs to the area Cordelia called the living room. Once they were both seated he asked, "You wanna tell me what that was all about? What's with you and Finn?"
She sat, quietly biting her lip and chipping at the dark red polish on her nails. Finally she said, "I should probably start at the beginning."
"Here's Willow now," Angel said. He rose from his seat as the witch joined them in the alcove off the lobby in which his office area now resided.
"It's pretty bad when I beat you out of bed, Wills," Xander said by way of greeting.
"Sorry," Willow said. "Dawnie's back. She's really stressed, so I left her with Tara. What are we discussing?"
Xander nodded absently as the redhead took the chair next to his. She was in crisp walking shorts and a rich purple shirt. The tee was thin with cap sleeves and a scalloped neckline, its flowing white script proudly proclaimed 'Hellmouth Born and Bred'.
"I offered Angel Faith, for Lindsey and a player to be named later," Xander quipped before Angel could say anything.
"Xander," Willow scolded, "this isn't dodge ball."
Angel watched the two friends grinning at each other. Each brought light and warmth into the old hotel in their own manner. He marveled at how much they had been through and yet still managed to retain such youthful exuberance. They seemed to feed off of each other's boundless energy. Willow's allusion to dodge ball was accurate; they egged each other on like children on a playground. Angel shook his head. They were Peter Pan and Wendy, baiting him and teasing each other. It was easy to forget that they were the reason Wolfram and Hart's LA headquarters was now a city block of rapidly cooling lava.
The vampire cleared his throat and two pair of sparkling eyes locked on him. Willow sat up straight, as if getting caught passing notes in class. Xander bounced in his chair as if he was about to pull a prank on the teacher of that class. Angel shook his head again. He could almost see these two at five and nine and thirteen. Could almost catch a glimpse of the young adults they would have become had they not stumbled onto the mouth of hell. There had been another boy, hadn't there? If only he had taken a stand against Darla and the Master sooner. If he had done more than lurk about spouting cryptic comments, could he have saved the other one? Jesse, the one they didn't talk about. The one he had seen in the photos in Willow's room when Angelus had killed her fish. Would that tall dark-eyed boy have calmed Xander's nervous energy? Would he have bolstered Willow's self-confidence?
Well, it was too late. He had held back. He had been afraid to let Buffy know what he was and the boy had paid the price. The two friends had done their best without their missing third. Willow had found herself and was now grounded through Tara. Oddly enough, Angel's wayward Childe did seem to calm Xander, if not reign in his boundless energy. And Spike, whatever Spike had found with his mate, if it didn't control his homicidal violence, at least it channeled it.
"Giles," Angel started, shaking off is introspection, "would like to get Buffy away from L.A. as soon as possible."
Xander was instantly alert and his eyes took on the wary look they held when he was planning something. "Do you have reason to believe someone knows she's subletting from Glory?"
"We're just being cautious. But even if Wolfram and Hart are distracted by... recent events it's best to have her hidden before they start looking." Angel said
Riley stepped out of the shower. The emotional workout of dealing with Faith had been a lot more draining that working the heavy bag. Graham's sudden presence had been a mixed blessing. His old friend - and more recently, lover - had become his touchstone. He hadn't realized just how much he relied on Graham's steadfast support until the Scoobies had swept into town. But as reasonable and collected as Graham was about his own emotions he was fiercely protective of Riley.
Finn wiped steam off the mirror and decided after a quick glance that he could put off shaving until tomorrow. He stepped out into the bedroom with a towel slung across his hips. Graham looked up from working oil into the leather sheath of the two-headed ax he favored and asked, "You okay?"
Riley nodded. He smiled as Graham returned his attention to his tasked. He appreciated the trust Graham was willing to show in his judgment. He knew he hadn't been worthy of it before but he had been clean for almost two months and was surprised at how much he welcomed the opportunity to put that mess with Faith behind him.
He turned to pull clean clothes out of the bureau. He wasn't ready to deal with Buffy yet and with luck wouldn't have to since the Scoobies were bound to take her back to Sunnydale with them. Faith, on the other hand... Well, if the past twenty-four hours were any indication, Gunn would probably be interested in keeping her around. Angel wouldn't just cut her loose now that Willow had broken her out and erased all recorded of her crimes and punishment. He couldn't see her going back to Sunnydale with the Scoobies even if Buffy weren't back in the picture. So, seeking some sort of closure with the Slayer was for the best. He wasn't willing to take the easy way out and blame her for his behavior after her 'visit'; it would be too easy. Reasons became excuses and that way just led to justifying his repeating the same self-destructive behavior that had nearly gotten him killed or turned.
"You want to go see what kind of dinner plans are being made?" Riley asked as he pulled on a clean tee shirt.
By way of reply Graham quickly tidied up his work area with military neatness and followed him out into the corridor. They moved shoulder to shoulder down the hall. Their silences were always companionable and Riley was relieved that he never felt the need to make idle chatter with Graham. Therefore, it was no surprise when they heard Faith and Gunn in the sitting area as they headed toward the stairs to the lobby. Her back was to them and Gunn's attention was riveted on the brunette as she spoke.
"His...his lips turned blue and I remember being relieved that I wouldn't have to deal with him any more. He had seen me. Really seen me. I didn't want someone with that power... that knowledge to be around. He had saved my life, you know... that night when we... I tried to treat him like all the others, but he wouldn't... he, he still thought of me as a friend. I took what he offered - that friendship and when I couldn't destroy it, I tried to destroy him. If Angel hadn't stopped me... If he had been just a few heartbeats later... Xander would be dead."
Spike struck like a ballistic missile. He had come out of nowhere. Gunn was thrown to the floor. The couch crashed into the wall and the snarling vampire held Faith above him by her neck. Once Riley saw Graham pulled Gunn up and back away from the vampire, he vaulted a footstool and ran breakneck down the stair to the lobby. He hoped he could find Angel or Xander before someone got killed.
"So, we don't know anything for sure?" Xander looked from Angel to Willow.
"We know what Lilah knew, but frankly she's too far down in the power structure to be given full disclosure," Angel said with a sigh.
"But she thinks this is temporary?" Xander said. "That Glory will dissipate, or leave this plane. That's not good?"
"Not if Buffy loses cohesion too," Willow said softly.
"So. They come as a pair, all or nothing," Xander said.
"For now. Lilah was operating on the assumption that Glory had no host. They tried to tie her to a vampire, thinking it would be stronger and be able to survive longer between her. feedings. But the intended host didn't survive the ritual; it er, exploded. Buffy is stronger than a normal human, she's stronger than most vampire. There is no telling how long she has or how strong Glory could become. I hate to say this but I think. I think one of the reasons Giles wants to get back to Sunnydale is, well, in case." Willow trailed off, unable to meet either Angel's or Xander's eyes.
"Not again," Xander said softly. "I'm not letting him go through that again."
Angel watched them share a dark
look. The weight of their many battles shone plainly on both
young faces. As quickly as it came the brooding look left Xander's
face, his mobile feature taking on an optimistic look. "So
we don't let it happen. We find a way to either evict Glory and
still keep Buffy or lull the bitch queen into dreaming away the
next century or so."
"This is my favorite part," Dawn said softly. She smiled at Buffy. She glanced at Lindsey, almost dozing on the loveseat. Tara had stepped out to get Buffy something to eat, with a nod to the sleeping bard. Dawn had understood that to mean she felt Lindsey could slow Glory down, at least enough for her to bolt and call for help should the Hellgod crash her sister-time. Looking down at the book she read, "Since leaving the warren of the snares they had become warier, shrewder, a tenacious band who understood each other and worked together. There was no more quarreling. The truth about the warren had been a grim shock. They had come closer together, relying on and valuing each other's capacities. They knew now that it was on these and on nothing else that their lives depended, and they were not going to waste anything they possessed between them. In spite of Hazel's efforts beside the snare, there was not one of them who had not wondered, like Blackberry, what would become of them now. Without Hazel, without Blackberry, Buckthorn and Pipkin -- Bigwig would have died. Without himself he would have died, for which else, of them all, would not have stopped running after such punishment? There was no more questioning of Bigwig's strength, Fiver's insight, Blackberry's wits or Hazel's authority." 
"Do you remember Mom reading it?" Dawn bit her lip as Buffy got what was becoming a habitual dazed look, as if she were watching a video of the past that only she could see. The trouble was, as far as Dawn could tell her sister's memories were written on an old tape and sometime she saw their shared memories and sometime she saw the events taking place with no Dawn in the picture. Dawn fiddled nervously as she waited for Buffy to respond, and then added in a burst of Willow-like babble, "It's kind of like the Scoobies; see, Spike has the strength and Tara the insight, Willow the wits and Xander the authority... although that leaves me as Pipkin and there isn't anyone for you." She glanced down at the book and said, "Oh, you can be Bigwig and Spike could be Woundwort. He likes being scary although... Xander should be the General so maybe -"
"Dawn," Buffy said. Dawn stopped her ramble with a quick intake of breath and snapped her eyes back to her now clear-eyed, quietly smiling sister. "I remember," Buffy said. "She read it to us in LA just after they - they stopped shouting and started being disturbingly polite to each other, and then we took turns reading it to her in the hospital."
A crash sounded outside the room, waking Lindsey. Dawn was up and out the door before Buffy could stop her.
"I could tell Wesley," Willow was finishing up a recap of just what she did with the holy water that reduced LA's nexus of evil into a straight-to-video disaster flick that had caused even Angel's eyes to glaze over from information overload.
"But then we'd have to kill him," Xander interrupted, smoothly preventing Willow from jumping up to diagram the process.
"Xander," She huffed and rolled her eyes, before noticing Angel had stopped taking notes. "TMI?"
"No, it's fascinating," Angel lied.
"He's just glad you're on our side." Xander winked at Willow and turned his attention back to Angel. "I was serious about taking the lawyer - so far he's our best bet at keeping glamourapocalypse girl from reassembling her scabby little minions and rebuilding the tower o' crap."
"First, you can't trust him," Angel said. "And then there's the prophesy - "
"I'm not taking him over state lines," Xander sprung to his feet and paced restlessly, "and who the hell said I trusted anyone? Hello, Xander here. I still think you're going to go all evil so why would I trust a lawyer? He endangers my people I'll kill him myself."
"Xander!" Willow said sharply.
"Er, or I'll let Wills turn him into a rat. Amy could use some company, right?" Xander rocked on his heel and looked sheepish.
Angel marveled at the lightening quick transformation the young man could make between alpha male making decisions and defending his group to the wheedling tone of an over-indulged child. Willow's rueful grin indicated she knew he was playing her and the vampire wondered which one of them would strike first should MacDonald or anyone else threaten their family. The Sunnydale home team might just prove far more dangerous than any prophesied champion or Slayer with a built-in destiny. Willow's raw power and creativity paired with Xander's strategic skills and ruthlessness rivaled the Scourge of Europe in their destructive potential. Xander was right about Angel being glad Willow was on his side, he was glad they both were. He remembered the vampire version of Willow - turned at fifteen she had been frightening. If she were turned now she would be unstoppable, especially with Xander at her side.
Abruptly, Xander threw himself back into the chair. "Anyway," he continued, and Angel wondered where Xander would jump into the conversation, not having Willow's gift for following the rapid associations of Xander train of thought, "he's safer away from the LFH, right? And Giles and Wes can both work on the prophesy - it's not like you're sure it's him right? We promise we won't let him get killed, unless we have to."
"LFH?" Angel asked
"Lawyers from hell," Willow and Xander said in unison.
Riley skidded to a halt breathlessly leaning on Angel's desk and simply pointed back to the upper floor.
The world was blood-red. Heat, movement, the soft whimper as the prey struggled for breath -- its rapid escalating heartbeat crescendoing as it valiantly struggles to pump nonexistent oxygen to the rest of the body only to rupture into the silence of death. No! Not fast. Spike loosened his hold on the Slayer's neck. She noisily pulled in a gasp of air. Throwing her to the floor, he pinned her with a knee to her chest and watched tears slip from her dark eyes. She had ceased to struggle though both her hands still tried to pry his viselike grip from her throat. Envisaging peeling her skin off inch by inch, he was startled by the crash of Dawn suddenly hurling herself bodily into Gunn. She sent herself and the stake-wielding vampire hunter over the coffee table and though an antique straight-back chair. He appreciated having someone watch his back but wished it wasn't his fragile girl. Spike knew he would have stopped the human long before Gunn had made it across the scattered furniture but Dawn must have thought he was too focused on revenge to see the large lumbering human charging with his stake. Spike was able to admire how well she remembered her lessons, as she had managed to both surprise the larger man and use him to cushion her landing, while simultaneously mentally cursing his errant charge for distracting him from killing the Slayer.
The crash happened at the feet of the startled ex-commando. While Miller imposed his bulk between Dawn and Gunn to prevent either from entering the fight, Tara warily inched toward Spike, her hand low and extended as if it were a rabid dog glaring at her instead of a pissed-off vampire. Spike was torn between ripping off the stupid human's hand and rolling his eyes. It was impossible to get a decent disemboweling in when surrounded by children - and they were everywhere.
"Spike," Tara said, contriving to sound calm and in charge but coming off more like a game show host. "You're not going to kill her. You don't really want to kill her -"
"Why the bloody hell not!" Spike hissed.
"Uhm..." Tara hadn't apparently expected conversation.
Buffy came down the corridor Dawn had emerged from, followed warily by her musician. She turned a confused look on Xander, who came up from the lobby followed by Angel and Willow.
"Did she try to kill you?" Xander asked, strolling in ahead of the witch and Angel. He crossed to Spike but made no attempt to free Faith. Warm strong fingers carded though Spike's still-damp locks and Xander cupped his lover's chin to turn his face this way and that, as if looking for rapidly healing bruises.
"Tried to kill you, love," Spike whispered.
Xander smiled and looked pointedly down at his long bare legs. He held his arms out and tilted them one way and then the other. Shrugging he said, "Funny, she usually does a better job." His grin faded when Spike failed to laugh. "Come on, Spike, we're practically out the door and we haven't offed Angel or one of his crew. That offer still stands if we make it back to Sunnydale without killing any of them."
"She doesn't count. She touched what's mine." Spike growled.
"Bullshit. You just want your hat trick." Xander scuffed his bare foot on the area rug and then nudged Spike with it. "You're giving that whole thing way more meaning than it deserves.... please..."
The 'please' more than anything else shook off the remainder of Spike's blood lust. Looking around he realized he had quite an audience and that just maybe his mate didn't want them to know about his past with this Slayer. Spike was torn between anger at Xander for not telling him about Faith and a need to protect his mate's pride. Sure, the signs had been there if he had cared to look - back when Giles and Xander had been hunting the Slayer, the boy's scent had held fear and pain, but that had been long before Xander had become Spike's world.
Abruptly Spike stood, leaving Faith gasping at his feet. He pulled Xander flush against him and buried his face in the crook of the human's neck. Inhaling deeply, he shifted to his demon visage and hissed, "Mine."
"Yours," Xander responded instantly, bucking instinctively into his mate as Spike's fangs penetrated his neck.
Cordelia hated to be the last on the scene. She had been in the kitchen when she heard everyone running up the stairs. The tableau before her told her she had missed a great deal. She arrived at the back of the crowd just as Angel turned away from the sight and, if she figured correctly, the smell of Spike feeding from Xander. Meeting his yellow eyes she watched Angel duck his head the way he always did when he had trouble controlling his demon.
He wasn't the only one affected by the scene. Riley was visibly shaken and couldn't seem to look away, his breath hitching noticeably. She watched Graham pull Riley to him and turn him away from the pair. The two men rarely displayed any physical affection so she was stunned when Graham chose to distract his lover with a dominating kiss.
She turned to see Fred, Wes and Giles coming up the stairs. Consoled that she wasn't the only one out of the loop, Cordelia stepped closer to Angel and took his hand. "It's okay," she whispered, not knowing if she was talking about the situation, or his reaction to it.
Gunn was kneeling next to Faith. The Slayer just smiled and clasped his hand when he asked if she was all right. Cordy figured it would be a while, even with Slayer healing, before Faith would be speaking without pain.
Buffy walked over to Dawn, who upon seeing no one else attacking Spike, had stayed behind the overturned couch. She held out her hand and as Dawn took it and stood, said, "Don't I remember some rule that says you never run toward the fighting?" Cocking her head, Buffy watched Spike and Xander a moment and then turned to Lindsey. When he smiled, she smiled back and looked around at the crowd of people. She stopped smiling when she saw Riley, still in Graham's arms. She turned a confused look on Giles and started to speak, then stopped. Finally she said, "I want to go home."
Their audience dissipated. Some went down to the lobby to discuss heading home; others went back to their rooms. Spike hadn't let go of Xander after removing his fangs from his mate's neck. He shifted back out of his feeding face but kept his lips ghosting softly against the bite. He drank in Xander's scent as he licked the taste of his blood from his lips. When he lifted his eyes to Xander's he was surprised to see no condemnation for his behavior. Xander, in fact, sported a dopey lovesick smile and Spike realized that they were both swaying to some unheard music - almost dancing.
"Hey," Xander said, resting his forehead against Spike's.
"Hey, yourself, luv," Spike answered.
"Now would be the time I poke fun at you for being - what was it? All puffed up and manly or was it splotchy and possessive?" Warm brown eyes and the tilt of his lips took away any sting the words might have had.
Spike smirked and hoped he didn't look as silly as Xander did. "Yeah, whatever, as you lot say. You should have warned me, Xan. You know- I never want to- Well that's not true, I love overreacting, but I need to know -"
"About every thing or person who has every caused me discomfort, let alone pain or heartache?" Xander finished for him.
"Basically, yes," Spike said, pulling his head back just far enough for Xander to know he was serious without losing the delicious heat of his body against his.
"Spike - you're my now and my forever. Let that be enough. As much as you want to - kill Faith and possibly hunt down Sarah Olinsky, who called me a boogerhead in third grade, you just have to live with the me all that pain and heartache crafted. Can you do that?" Xander was taking unfair advantage as he was peppering his speech with tiny nips and kisses along Spike's jawline.
"I can try, Pet," Spike said.
"That's all I ask," Xander answered and added, "Look, we're dancing."
They stayed in each other's arms kissing softy until a noise at the top of the stair caught their attention. Surprisingly it wasn't Angel come to chuck them out now that the Scoobies were talking of heading home, but Lorne.
"Hey, glad we got to see you again before we left," Xander said and he started to release his hold on Spike, only to be pulled closer as his mate growled and shifted to gameface.
"It's been swell, handsome. Can't tell you what insight meeting Junior has given me to tall, dark and brooding," Lorne said, unfazed by Spike's antics. "I wanted to see Linds before he left. I know he and Angelkins never bonded but he's a sweet kid. You all keep an eye on him; word travels about Sunnydale and it's not the home I would have picked for him.
"I knew Peaches would find a way to saddle us with the lawyer and probably the bloody prophesy to boot," Spike hissed, his eyes flashing to gold and back to blue.
"Buffy likes him," Xander said in his ending-all-arguments voice. "We'll see he keeps in touch, Lorne."
"I appreciate that, dark eyes, but that's not why I came up. You're good. Between the jokes and using your friends as shields you are the one person who didn't get a reading. And you, besides Junior here, were the whole reason Angel arranged readings." Lorne sat down on the one chair that had remained upright during Spike's display of demon testosterone.
Xander looked away as if trying to find a way out. Spike chuckled and refused to relinquish his hold on his lover.
Lorne ventured, "I thought it might be easier here, alone. I have endured Angel and Cordelia - trust me you can't be that bad."
Xander shrugged and blushed and asked, "What should I sing?"
"Why don't you sing to him?" Lorne said. "You don't seem to care if he laughs at you."
Pulling Spike close and starting their swaying, almost dancing, again. Xander sang softly, almost whispering, "You make me laugh. Cause your eyes they light the night. They look right through me. You bashful boy. You're hiding something sweet - please give it to me. Yeah, to me. Talk to me some more, you don't have to go. You're the Poetry Man - you make things all rhyme. You are a genie all I ask is for you to smile each time I rub the lamp. When I am with you I have a giggling teen-age crush, then I'm a sultry vamp. Talk to me some more, you don't have to go. You're the Poetry Man-you make things all right." 
Spike pushed Xander back into the wall. He silenced him with a heated kiss. What Lorne may or may not have read would have to wait as the tall green demon slipped silently down the stairway, leaving the lovers to either make it back to their room or not.
Shortly before midnight, Angel watched Xander and Gunn exchange email information. Faith hung back until Xander nodded to her then she stepped up and Gunn put his arm around her. Cordy was making loud keep-in-touch noises to Willow, in between hissing warnings about Lindsey under her breath. Dawn hugged Fred while Wes looked on in fond amusement. The two girls were separated by years but had become quite close, sharing a common ground in being normal but surrounded by supernatural creatures. Dawn was the last to get into Giles' car.
Giles would be driving Lindsey, Buffy and Dawn back to Sunnydale. He was pretty sure that the extra space wasn't the only reason that Dawn had claimed the front seat. Angel wasn't sure what was more frightening: the thought of Willow in the confined space of a car for three hours on all the caffeine she had consumed, or of just what the mischief twins could get up to in the back seat. He couldn't help being relieved that they were leaving earlier than planned or that they were taking MacDonald with them. If Lindsey was the bard mentioned in the prophesy, it was probably smarter to stash him somewhere away from Wolfram and Hart.
Spike had implied that he wouldn't mind if Angel happened to see if he could find out where Xander's ex was, just to make sure she was doing all right, as he had put it. Angel almost believed that his now chipless Childe had no intention of tormenting his mate's former lover and said he would look into it.
Graham and Riley had disappeared after Spike's little claiming display. Angel wondered if he should wait until his scheduled time with Riley, tomorrow morning, to talk to him. Riley hadn't, as far as Angel knew, spoken with Buffy since she came back from the dead. Adding in Faith, who had tricked him into bed, Dawn's open resentment, and Spike, who went out of his way to rub in Finn's addiction at every chance, it was understandable that Riley was feeling off his game.
As Giles drove away with his carload, Xander walked over to Angel and extended his hand. As he shook it Xander said, "Deadboy, don't be such a stranger." Hugging Cordelia he added, "You're all coming up for Thanksgiving, right?"
Cordelia began to stammer out an excuse that they were far too busy at that time of year and Spike laughed loud and long. Pushing Xander in ahead of him, he climbed into the back seat while saying, "Right, so, we'll all be back same time next year." On that note Willow drove away honking her horn.
"He was joking, wasn't he? Wasn't he? Angel?" Cordelia followed him back into the hotel. He briefly considered pointing out that this visit had been her idea in the first place but simply shrugged and went inside to increase the insurance on the hotel.
 Watership Downs by Richard Adams
 Poetry Man - Phoebe Snow