"Are you ABSOLUTELY sure?" Buffy said.
"Well...yeah," Willow said. "I mean....at least that's what I got from the internet. Giles and I will go check it out, though, if you want...in person."
"And then what?"
"Well, if it's true, then we get everyone together and figure out what the heck happened," Willow said on the other end of the phone line. "Two birds...one stone."
It had been two weeks since that night at Buffy's. Willow knew Xander was in L.A., but none of them were ready to make the call, yet. Eventually she decided to see if she could find out any more info so she snooped some more, and found out where Xander was working. And none of them could believe it.
"I don t know, Will...this thing...whatever it was that tore us apart....we don't know what it did or said to Xander. Maybe I should go instead and get the apology out of the way." Buffy's voice was hesitant, to say the least.
"Well....that's an option," Willow said. "But, Buffy, if this thing has a plan, I think we should just get all this awkwardness out of the way and put our heads together and try to figure out what's going on."
Buffy was silent. She didn't want to go and have to leave Vivienne behind. The Slayer already spent too much time away from her family as it was. "Are you sure you don't mind?" Buffy gave in. It would be easier this way. For once in her life, she let someone else do the hard work.
"No at all. We'll call you from L.A."
By the time they pulled up to the street in front of the Hyperion, Willow had fallen asleep in the passenger seat. It was well after midnight.
Giles turned the car off and surveyed the area. It looked dark. It looked empty. It looked like a vampire's lair. Fitting, he thought, because it is.
He leaned over and stroked the side of Willow's face softly and took her hand in his.
She stirred and felt a warm rush wash over her. Even after all this time, his touch ignited her. She smiled and straightened up in her seat. "Looks empty," she said peering out the window.
"Only one way to find out," Giles said and pulled the handle on his door and stepped out into the night. He walked around the other side and opened the door for Willow. Always a gentleman.
Inside the building, behind a desk, typing away furiously on the keyboard of his computer, Xander sat transfixed at the data that was flying by. He had been working with Angel for three years. When the thing with Anya didn't work out, and when Buffy and Willow drove him away, he decided to give a 'normal' life a shot. But he wasn't wired that way, he needed to be out there in the field, fighting evil and making the world was as safe as he could. After you spend all those years staring evil in the face, you can't just decide to 'not' believe that it exists. Xander couldn't turn off the knowing, no matter how much he tried. And 'knowing' meant 'fighting' it - at least in his eyes.
Somehow he landed in L.A. and met up with Angel. He found out that everyone Angel worked with had taken off for some reason, and Angel was doing the 'brooding hero' bit alone. As much as he despised deadboy, Xander knew they could use each other's help.
Willow stood at the door, hesitant to burst into the building without knowing what they'd be walking into. She steeled herself for the worst and reached for the handle of the front door.
"Willow," Angel said from behind them and startled them both. His voice was soft and calm as always.
"Angel!" She smiled. "Hi. Long time, huh?" The site of him sent her back to high school, to the days when she and Buffy would sit up for hours talking about Angel and Oz and how they wanted to get married some day. Buffy knew she'd never have a normal life with Angel, but she was a teenager, and teenagers daydream. Boy, times sure have changed.
"You're here for Xander," Angel said. It wasn't a question. He always seemed to know what was going on. A few hundred years of experience will do that to a guy.
"Yes," Giles said.
"Rupert. Good to see you." Angel didn't look him in the eye. After the Jenny thing and the torture thing, Angel and Giles never could be friends. He understood and respected the man, though. "Please come in." Angel opened the door and led the way.
Angel pushed through the front door, carrying a bag of blood in his hand. When he caught Giles casually glance down at it, he felt ashamed and decided to dispense with it immediately. "I'll go and get Xander." Angel left the two of them in the lobby and headed to his office.
"Well, it's quite impressive," Giles said as he made his way to the center of the room and looked up, his hands in his pockets, his brow furrowed as his eyes scanned the balcony and the various nooks and crannies overhead. "It must have been rather majestic in it's heyday."
"I know. It has such an amazing current to it, do you feel it?" Willow walked to his side and surveyed the room with him. Though she had been there before, she was always impressed.
"It's not an evil current, is it?" Giles smiled down to her.
"No, not evil." She smirked
"Just checking. You never know when it's one of us." He could see that she was nervous and jittery and he slipped an arm around her shoulder and placed a delicate kiss at her hairline, on her temple.
When Xander walked into the room, he stopped short at the site of Giles kissing Willow. He wasn't that shocked, after all - she always had a thing for the librarian. It was just unexpected, especially after all these years.
"Xander!" Willow's eyes lit up and she walked over to greet him. It was too awkward for a hug, so she just stopped in front of him. "So, it's true." She said.
"Yeah, ya got me," Xander tucked one hand into his back pocket and ran the other through his hair from his forehead back. "Joined forces with deadboy to rid the world of evil...or, at least, rid L.A."
"Don't call me that," Angel called from his office.
"Sorry," Xander shook his head no to Willow, in contradiction to the apology he shouted to Angel.
Giles made his way over after Willow and Xander had said hello, "Xander, good to see you." Giles extended his hand for Xander.
Xander was shocked at the gesture, but quickly reached out to shake Giles' hand.
"Um, we need to talk," Willow said.
"Ok, as long as you're starting with an apology," he said, completely serious.
"Me?" Willow said. She assumed that everyone had been driven away by the fake Buffy or the fake Dawn, she never imagined Xander left because of her. Giles felt her waning and reached for her hand to give her strength.
"Xander, something's happened. I think maybe we should all sit and talk about it. We'd like for you to come to Sunnydale if you can, to see Buffy." Giles said.
"Oh, God, is she ok? Is that why you're here?" Xander went white, like a ghost. Even though they hadn't been in touch, he couldn't bear the thought of losing Buffy. Again.
"Buffy?" Angel said and poked his head out from his office.
"No, no, Buffy's fine. But, Angel, may I ask where are all your friends? Where's Wesley and Cordelia and the others who used to work for you," Giles asked.
Angel stiffened and got angry, "Let's just say they're not welcome here anymore. Especially Wes."
"Wow, we really...we need to talk about things." Willow said. "I think we're going to have a long night."
By the time Willow and Giles had finished telling Angel and Xander what had happened, the sun was beginning to rise. They had stayed up all night, and even had contacted Cordy and Wes. Apologies, whether or not they were necessary, were made.
Xander was crushed. He couldn't believe he'd missed all those years with his friends. "I mean, being here with Angel, yeah, you know - I fight stuff and it makes me feel good, but...not being able to pick up the phone to call you guys...it just felt like something was missing."
"I know," Willow said.
They were in one of the rooms of the Hyperion. Scantly furnished, it held a bed and a dresser, but nothing else. Giles had fallen asleep about an hour before sunrise while Xander and Willow talked about old times and waited for Cordy and Wes.
"Why don't I let you get some sleep?" Xander said and stood up to go. "I'll wake you up when they get here."
Willow just smiled and stood up to walk him out. When they got to the door, she reached out to hug him and just sank into his arms. It felt good. It felt like things were falling into place. But there was one thing missing from the hug - the feeling she used to get for so many years ago when he touched her. It was gone. She loved him as a friend, but the other stuff...it all went away.
When Xander left the room, Willow crawled onto the bed and curled up next to Giles. She placed a kiss on his shoulder and then settled in beside him, resting her face softly against his arm, hovering on his pillow. He stirred, but didn't wake. In an instant, sleep took her under.
When she woke she was alone in bed, and the sunlight that had poked through the window earlier, had now turned a rusty, dull color as the sun slipped away and the evening hour approached. She stood up and stretched and left the room. As she made her way down the hall she could hear voices of people in the lobby and, when she reached the staircase, everyone was there: Cordelia, Wesley, Gunn, Fred, Lorne, Angel, Xander and Giles.
She walked down the grand staircase with a huge smile on her face. They were a family, and they were back together. Even though she had only met Gunn and the others a few times, they felt like they belonged together. Like it was somehow their destiny to team up and fight evil.
When she reached the bottom she went over to Giles and stood next to him. He seemed to be at the crux of the group, all eyes and ears were on him. He pulled her into a hug while they all continued to talk.
The mood was upbeat and happy. Wesley was beaming from ear to ear as if he'd just been appointed a prefect at Hogwarts.
"Hey, guys," Willow said and smiled at the group. "Did ya get the lowdown?"
"Oh yeah," Cordy said. "Giles gave us the whole 411. He assures us that Angel didn't actually do the nasty things we all think he did, but I'll spare you the gory details of that."
"Appreciated," Giles said.
"Guys, we really need to figure out what happened. I mean, someone split us all up, someone wanted us all apart," Willow said.
"She's right," Wesley said. "We haven't seen Angel for years, not to mention all of you in Sunnydale. Something or someone thought that our teams, collectively, were a force to be reckoned with."
"Well, it was right," Gunn said and smiled at Fred. They had also lost touch, because of something Fred said. Or maybe she didn't. The good thing about this evil thing was that anything that happened in their pasts that they regretted could easily be explained away with a simple "Wasn't me." It was like a 'get out of jail free' card.
"But has anything bad happened to anyone? I mean, anything really bad?" Fred said.
"Aside from losing touch with the people we cared most about in this pitiful world? Having our hearts broken by people we loved and trusted and fought beside for the best years of our lives?" Cordelia said, rather nonchalantly before adding, "Nope...nothing else from my perspective."
"Nothing that we've noticed, but what if something is plotting...planning...." Wesley said.
"Something laying in wait, preparing for something big... " Giles said.
"Another apocalypse? It's been done before, you'd think they'd come up with something more original." Xander said.
"I'm with the boy-wonder," Lorne said, "You'd think these evil-beastie things could come up with a better plan. Whatever happened to spontaneity?" He was almost misting up, "Nobody works with pride anymore. No more flourishes, no more surprises. I can't tell you the last time I had a good adrenaline rush from something evil. I mean for all the monotony of it they may as well just cut two holes in a sheet and run around like Casper." He looked around at everyone. Clearly none of them got his humor.
"Well, there's really only one place to start," Wesley said.
"The Hellmouth," Willow and Angel said in unison.
"The Hellmouth," Cordy and Xander agreed.
Things were quiet at the Hyperion. Angel, Cordelia, Xander and Wesley had all left for Sunnydale while Lorne, Fred and Gunn stayed behind to keep an eye on things for Angel. It was like they'd never been apart and the trio slipped into a routine at Angel Investigations overnight. Fred searched quickly through Xander's files and found a few cases that could be handled pretty easily, and Wes and Gunn went to work to help as many people as they could.
Giles and Willow had left immediately following the explanations and the others followed soon after. Angel could only travel by dark of night, so he and Cordy waited until the following sundown before they left. He had wanted her to go with Xander and Wes, but Cordelia had spent enough time away from Angel. She really wanted to catch up with him and see if any of those old feelings she had for him still lingered. They did. And she had it bad, this time.
Buffy had just put Vivienne to bed when the doorbell rang. Her heart sank for a brief moment, unsure of who was at the door. Willow had called and said that everyone was on their way to Buffy's place, so it could have been Xander or Wes or Angel or Cordy. She took a deep breath and opened the door. She was relieved to find Giles standing there. At least with him by her side, she would feel more comfortable when the others arrived.
"Hello," he said. He was alone and it seemed odd to Buffy.
"Hi, where's Willow?" Buffy said, moving aside so that Giles could enter.
"She went home to pick up a few things, she'll be back soon," he said. "Are you all right?" Giles asked, noticing the furrowed brow and small beads of sweat that had gathered on her forehead.
Buffy just let out a sigh and a small laugh, "Yeah, it's just...I'm a little anxious to see everyone," she paused. "Well, except maybe Cordy," she added with a dismissive chuckle.
"Buffy, I assure you everyone understands completely and nobody bears any ill will." He said and reached out for her shoulder. "Xander and Wesley are about an hour behind us, but Angel and Cordelia won't be here until tomorrow night, after sundown."
She smiled, so glad that Giles was back in her life. For so long she had felt alone. She had Dawn and Vivienne, but she didn't belong to anyone. She was the grownup, and she needed someone around to be the protector. Someone to be her protector. Watcher. Slayer. That's how it had been for centuries. But more importantly, Giles was family. And they had been apart too long.
"Where's our little princess?" Giles asked, following Buffy into the living room.
"You mean our little monster?" She made a face at the last word, it really didn't come out as she expected. "I guess normal people don't think twice about using that word as a simile, but it's really pretty rotten. I didn't mean monster, I just meant...well...holy terror?"
Giles shook his head no and corrected, "Princess... "
"Miss Vivienne is in bed. She had a long day and I didn't think she could handle any more introductions. I haven't really told her about the gang. I mean, since you and Willow were here a few weeks ago, I explained a little about you guys, but not the others. It's too hard." Buffy said.
"Buffy, something occurred to me while Willow and I were in L.A." He sat on the couch on the middle cushion and looked at Buffy who was settling herself in a chair across from him. "Uhm...I know it's not my place and I don't wish to stir up anything that is already settled between you and Riley, but...are you sure that Riley left for the reasons you initially thought? Perhaps something happened to him as well. Perhaps this...well…for lack of a better description - evil entity appeared to Riley as well and chased him away."
She looked to the floor, away from his eyes, "Giles, you didn't know Riley very well. But I'm sure he left because he wanted to. He wanted to fight for his country. He's a military man and nothing would get in the way of that." She looked at Giles and realized that she was lying to herself as much as she was lying to him. After a beat she put on one of those 'I'm going to smile even though what I'm saying is rotten' faces and continued, "He wanted to take us away from the Hellmouth, to keep Vivienne safe, but I told him that he couldn't keep her safe. Not in Iowa or Mexico or the rain forests or the deserts. Not from the things I could protect her from. He left because I told him he wasn't man enough to take care of us." Her eyes began to glaze over as she relived their last conversation in her mind.
"I'm sorry." His voice cracked when he spoke, his heart breaking for the Slayer. "I shouldn't have..."
She cut him off before he finished, "It's ok."
They were both startled when the kettle started whistling from the kitchen. Buffy stood up, "Ooops, forgot I put that on," she said. "Tea?"
"Please," he said softly.
Willow gathered a few things from home and then dropped by the Magic shop for more supplies. She was planning on doing a spell to search Sunnydale for any chaos that might be brewing. If something evil was operating anywhere in town, her spell would find it.
She had also made up the spare bedroom and the couch for Wesley and Cordelia or whoever needed a place to sleep. But as the wheels in the back of her mind turned, she realized that with the whole group together again, there wouldn't be much time for sleep. It excited her a little. Who doesn't love the chance to relive their glory days? Sunnydale during their high school years was an awful place to live with all the vampires and demons. But those experiences made them all who they were today.
Her life with Giles was wonderful, but the two of them did little hands-on fighting when it came to evil. She hated to admit it, but a good fight might do them all some good. It would bring them all back together quickly, like the days back in the library in high school.
When she pulled up at Buffy's she noticed Spike walking up the steps to the porch. He paused and looked over his shoulder and smiled when he saw the witch. Willow still wasn't sure about Spike's part in this whole thing. Buffy hadn't mentioned him since that first night that she and Giles visited, so Willow figured that maybe they stopped seeing each other. She was wrong.
Spike turned and waited for Willow as he leaned against the frame of the door. He pulled out a cigarette and struck a match on the sole of his shoe to light it. His eyes followed her as she walked toward him, carrying a few bags.
"Need some help, Red?" He asked.
"No, I got it." She stood in front of him and she couldn't help but smile. "Just like old times, huh?"
"Oh, yeah," Spike said, exhaling a cloud of smoke out of his nostrils. "I'm all tingly in my girly parts." He seemed completely annoyed that she was even there.
She wanted to say 'so I see that soul's working out just fine for ya' but she wasn't in the mood to mess with him. Mostly because she knew it would piss Buffy off, and they had been apart too long already. She didn't want to do anything to jeopardize that friendship again.
Willow stopped in front of him, her hip jutted out farther than normal to accommodate the weight of one of the things she carried. Her eyes met his and she stared him down. He wasn't backing off and the words just flew out of her mouth without even thinking about it, "Why are you such a bastard, Spike?"
He was startled. Where the hell did that come from? "Are you evil again?" Spike narrowed his eyes onto her and took another drag.
"I mean why can't you just be happy that Buffy has us back in her life? It seems like she's been miserable for years. And I'm not saying that it was because I wasn't around, but...you know...we're friends. ALL of us were friends and I think Buffy missed us." She just shook her head and walked around him to open the screen door.
He stepped behind her and slammed his hand flat against the door, causing the doorknob to rip out of her hand. "Buffy is not miserable!" Spike shouted into Willow's ear as his body menacingly outlined hers. "We're happy." He emphasized the word 'We're', trying to assure himself as well as Willow that he meant something to Buffy. "And the whole lot of you can just sod off. I been here taking care of them all for years. Haven't seen one of you around. That's right convenient, isn't it? Show up after she's already gone through the hard stuff."
Willow wasn't afraid of him. She couldn't believe he was acting this way, but she wasn't afraid of him. "Spike - think very strongly about the person you are threatening. Do you really wanna piss me off?"
He leaned even closer and pressed his lips to her ear. She felt his breath, hot on her skin as he continued on, "What are you gonna do about it witch? Rumor has it you're not even into the mojo anymore. Heard your new beau keeps you in line. Does he spank you when you're bad? Does he play the proper librarian and punish his charge when she reads the dirty books?"
This whole thing was so far beneath her that she decided not to play with him. Is this really someone that Buffy loved? And trusted?
Willow remembered the old days when Spike and Drusilla were running the town. Or, at least they thought they were. But in reality, Buffy always had control of things in Sunnydale.
She remembered when he got his chip. And when he lost his chip. And when he got his soul. And how he had fought beside them. Nobody ever really trusted him, not like Buffy did. Willow would never understand it.
"Are you finished?" Willow said, not even bothering to meet his gaze.
Her refusal to react enraged him even more, but he backed off. His tone softened and he mustered up his version of an apology, "I'm just tryin' to keep her from getting another broken heart, you know? Tryin' to keep the girl safe and happy. Tryin' to keep little sis and the toddler safe, too. It's not easy."
"We're not here to hurt her," she said.
"We'll see about that," Spike said and dropped his cigarette onto the porch. He stomped it out with his foot and then opened the door for Willow. "Ladies first."
"Hey," Buffy said when Willow walked through the front door.
"Hey, guys," Willow said. She put some of her bags on the floor, a few on an empty chair in the corner of the room.
"Rupert," Spike said instead of 'hello.'
"Hello, Spike." Giles wasn't really prepared to deal with Spike. He wasn't about to question Buffy's relationship with Spike, though, not now. Probably not ever again.
Willow made her way over to Giles. As she approached him, he stood to greet her with open arms. He placed a delicate kiss on her lips and then moved aside so that she could sit next to him on the sofa.
Spike saw this exchange and tried to greet Buffy the same way. But when he made his way over to her and bent down to kiss her hello, she just gave him a quick peck on the cheek. "Oh, is that how it's gonna be now that the Scoobies are back together?"
"Spike," she scolded. "Not now."
"Fine," he said. "Actually, I'm gonna go. Don't think I can stand the happy reunion with the rest of them."
Buffy was angry with him. She wanted him to try and get along with everyone, but she knew it wouldn't be easy. In fact, it might not be possible at all. Spike was too jealous. "Will you two excuse me for a minute?"
Willow and Giles nodded and watched as Buffy and Spike disappeared out the back door.
Outside, Spike lit up another cigarette and Buffy leaned against the siding of the house as they spoke. "Look, we talked about this. You can't be here and be all jealous and pissed off all the time. These are my friends. And, I'm sorry if that means that there's less 'alone' time for us, but that's how it's gotta be. Spike - you're gonna live forever. But I'm not. I have to make good choices with the time that I have. Maybe you can afford to spend every waking moment with only me, but I have a family and now I have my friends back. They're important to me. And I don't wanna screw this up."
"You can live forever, too." Spike said. He wasn't being funny or mean. His words were soft, and he was trying to show her how much he cared. Spike wanted Buffy to live forever. Forever with him.
She was a little touched, a little grossed out. The Vampire Slayer Vampire. It's an oxymoron. "Look, things are going to be a little crazy the next couple of days. Maybe weeks."
He cut her off, "I know. I get it. I'll take off. Don't think I'll be able to control myself around the pouf anyways."
"I told you stop calling Angel that."
"I know," he said and smiled at her. "Listen, you call me if you need anything. If you figure out whatever this 'evil' is that you're all talkin' about, let me know. I'll head out and take care of it for you."
"Will do," Buffy said. "Goodnight, Spike."
"Goodnight, Slayer," he said and leaned in for a kiss.
This time she met him and sunk into his arms. The others would never understand, and she couldn't blame them. But she really did care for Spike.
"Tell the little toddler that I'll be back to see her next week. Promised her a trip to the carnival that set up shop just outside of town," he said, "She likes the carousel." Spike tried to make himself relevant in Vivienne's life.
"I will." Buffy said, not wanting to tell him that Dawn had already taken her.
She watched Spike go, but she stayed outside for a few minutes. There were so many feelings swirling around inside of her. She hadn't even let herself think about Angel much since Willow and Giles said he'd be coming back with them. It was too difficult.
Inside, on the sofa, Willow and Giles were talking quietly when Buffy approached the room. It was almost as if they were whispering intentionally so that she wouldn't hear them. But she dismissed her paranoia and caught their attention. "Hey. What do you think about dinner? You two hungry?"
"Oh, I could whip up something for us all," Willow said, enthusiastically.
Giles and Buffy just looked at her, both with a look of surprise and disinterest in Willow's cooking.
"Or not." The witch said, her ego only slightly shattered. She knew she wasn't a good cook, but she was only trying to be helpful.
"I was thinking more along the lines of asking Dawn to bring home a pizza." Buffy said.
"Or two." The voice startled them as it drifted in from the hallway.
Buffy turned around and saw him. "Xander!"
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