Working sucks. Don't do it. Anyway - so sorry about being so slow with this story. I'm working, I have a hell of a commute and, bizarrely enough, now have an active social life. I mean, those are usually good things, but man it's tiring. Right. So. Story. Many, many thanks go, as always, to the wonderfully insightful and observant Love-el-ly Joy. The good news is that this story is sort of starting to take shape in my mind (took me long enough, right?). I'm trying to add more Angelus, because he's fun, but I also am trying hard to keep him in character, which is surprisingly difficult to do. Or maybe not-so surprising. In any event, I hope you enjoy! Let me know what you think!
Buffy walked carefully through her suspiciously empty house. "Willow?" she called out. "Dawn?" She stepped into the living room, empty of all furniture. "Guys?"
Unnerved, she automatically went to her weapons trunk. It wasn't there.
"Hello, lover," purred a smooth voice. She spun around, already knowing who she would find.
"Buff," he said, that cocky, unnerving smile playing around his lips. "You don't sound happy to see me."
"Where are they?"
He spread his arms wide, the innocent gesture and matching innocent expression making her roll her eyes. "You're going to have to ask yourself that one."
"What do you mean?" she asked.
"You're setting the stage here, lover." He looked around. "And I have to say, empty house, stripped bare… looks like a psychologist's wet dream."
"Yeah, well after my experience with psychology, I-"
She broke off. "Did you hear that?" she asked as the sound of a baby crying grew louder.
"I'm guessing that was rhetorical," said Angelus.
Ignoring him, she followed the sound, coming into the kitchen to find Connor in a bassinet, wailing his little lungs out.
"What…what's wrong with him?"
"You're asking me?" said Angelus. "My guess would be he's hungry."
She stared at the baby as it continued to cry.
"Aren't you going to do anything about it?" he asked with a knowing smirk.
She wiped her sweaty palms on her pants. "Ummm…"
The baby continued to cry, but she couldn't go near it. "Could you feed it?" she asked him.
Angelus' eyebrows shot up. "Did you seriously just say that?"
"Right," she said. But she still couldn't bring herself to go any closer to the baby. The bassinet inched closer to the edge of the countertop.
"Well, that can't be good," said Angelus, almost in a sing-song.
The bassinet began to fall. Buffy was glued to her spot.
"NO!" she cried, sitting up in bed.
It took her a moment to regain her bearings. She heard what she assumed was a second knock at the door. She rushed downstairs, jumping as she met Angel at the door.
Angel steadied her. "Sorry. Didn't mean to wake you up. It's probably Wes and Fred."
She just nodded at him, mentally shaking herself free of the dream as he opened the door, letting two figures rush in.
"How'd it go?" asked Angel.
"We had a few close calls, but Holtz should think we all headed to Vegas to work on a case for Lorne," said Wes.
"You weren't too obvious?"
"We made the false clues just hard enough to find," Fred assured him.
"We brought along additional supplies. Books, weapons, clothes…"
"We may not be able to keep some of it here," said Buffy, finally stepping forward, "but we'll figure it all out later."
Keep some of it here! I'd love to see the witch go bad.
"Buffy," said Wes. "I'm sorry to just barge in like this."
Buffy shrugged. "This house is used to barging; don't worry about it."
"Hi, I'm Fred," said a sweet-sounding girl with a hint of a southern twang, sticking her hand out.
"Buffy," she said, taking the offered hand.
"Thank you for letting us impose on you. I know you probably have a lot going on-" Wes began.
Buffy just waved his comment away. "As far as impositions go, a team of non-evil demons hunters who can hold their own… isn't one. You look good, Wes. Diggin' the new look."
Don't let it fool you, he's still a tool.
He's come a long way.
Oh yeah, that's saying a lot.
"You're looking well too," he lied. "I'm happy to see that you're…" Wes floundered for words other than 'doing well,' since that was blatantly untrue.
"Alive." Fred supplied.
"Right, well, who isn't," said Buffy, keeping most of the bitterness from her voice. "Come on in. Can I get you something to drink? I have… um… water. I think I have some tea bags left."
"No, but thank you," said Wes. "Have you heard from the social worker?"
Buffy sighed. "Yeah. She's back on the case. You wouldn't know how to get a hold of Giles, would you? He's my only other reference and we can't get in touch with him."
Wesley frowned. "I haven't heard from him, but I can see if someone in the old Watcher's Council knows where he is. He didn't leave a number?"
"Apparently not the right one," Buffy muttered.
Angelus laughed gleefully. My, that's cold. Even for a Watcher.
Angel lightly squeezed her shoulder. "Wes, can you make some calls?"
"Of course. I'm sure I can track him down. I'd be happy to provide you with a reference, if you need one."
Buffy smiled thinly. "I really appreciate that, but given my school record, the big hoop she-devil Croager wants me to jump through is to provide a reference from someone who knows me in 'an academic capacity.' Since that leaves only an evil Frankenstein monster-creating Psych professor, who's dead anyway, and Giles, I kind of really need to get in touch with him."
See? She-devil. Even Buffy says she's evil. Can we kill her now?
Even knowing the circumstances, Fred couldn't imagine not being adored by professors. "You don't have anyone from your time at college you could ask?"
Yeah, college dropouts usually come with all kinds of glowing references from professors.
"There was an old poetry professor who was sad to see me go, but I don't know if he would even remember me now. I don't even remember his name. It was when mom was sick and…"
She was calmed somewhat by Angel's hand going back to her shoulder.
Wesley nodded. "I'll track Giles down."
"Thanks," she said with a grateful smile. "I'll help you guys unload your stuff. We can put it in the basement until we figure out where to put everyone."
"We won't all stay," said Angel, already sensing Buffy's anxious mind trying to figure out how to feed everyone for the duration of their stay. "I'd like to keep Connor here, since vampires can enter the mansion uninvited."
Fred furrowed her brow in confusion. "But it's humans that are after him."
Buffy shook her head. "I'd imagine more than a few vamps wouldn't mind getting their hands on him, too."
"Keeping him here at least cuts down on the number of enemies," Angel agreed. "So we'll keep two of us here at all times to watch after him and help you out with whatever-"
"No!" said Buffy. "I mean, thanks, but I need to…to be an adult. You guys shouldn't…"
"Shouldn't help?" asked Fred. "That's hardly fair, imposing on you and not even helping out around here."
"We're not saying we're going to run your life for you," Angel said gently, "but having someone cook a meal or do a load of laundry doesn't make you any less capable."
I mean, you aren't capable, but not because of the laundry thing.
Angel's nostrils flared angrily as he tried to keep himself from rising to the bait.
Buffy looked around at them for a moment before deciding it really wasn't worth the fight. "Um… thanks" she said as Connor started fussing. "Is… is Connor in the kitchen?"
"Yeah," said Angel. "I was just going to feed him when I heard the knock. Why?"
It's good to know I'm not the only one who thinks the kid is creepy.
It's not like that, Angel insisted, wiping out Connor's bottle more vigorously than was strictly necessary. Fred had taken Connor upstairs after they had fed and burped him.
She wouldn't go within 5 feet of him.
Angel's heart twisted at the knowledge that Buffy couldn't warm to Connor, even though he knew and understood her reasons.
She just needs time, he told himself just as much as Angelus.
Uh huh. Hey, Soul Boy, if that bottle isn't clean by now, nothing you do is going to fix it.
Angel looked down to realize he had been scrubbing at the bottle for at least 15 minutes. Sighing, he put the bottle on the drying rack. He hated that, even after living with him for over 100 years, he still let Angelus get to him sometimes.
Angel was pulled out of his internal monologue by the back door crashing open. He clenched his fists as a figure covered in a smoldering blanket ran in. His nails dug into his palms as the figure pulled the smoking blanket off. Spike straightened after throwing his blanket aside, trying to play it cool.
"Spike," said Angel through gritted teeth.
Spike nearly fell over in surprise. "Peaches? Blood Hell, what are you doing here?"
"I could ask the same of you," said Angel with impressive articulation in Spike's opinion, considering how tightly his jaw was clenched.
Spike just smirked in response. Before he could blink, Angel had him pinned against the wall. His eyes widened. "Goldilocks told you?" he asked in surprise, his smirk growing.
Angel responded with a solid punch to his face.
"From the caveman routine, I'd say that's a yes."
"Do I know that you took advantage of her when she was vulnerable?" Angel growled, slamming Spike against the wall again.
Spike finally freed himself from Angel's grip. "'Took advantage of her?' Hell, it's all I can do to keep up."
I really believe that.
Angel's fist crashed into his face again, but this time Spike braced himself enough to return the favor.
"What's the matter, Peaches?"
Peaches? Hit him again.
"You upset that our girl is-" he was cut off as Angel landed a solid hit to the gut.
"I'd advise you not to finish that sentence," said Angel, fury in his voice.
"What, did you think you owned her? That no one else would touch her?" said Spike, kicking Angel, sending him sprawling across the kitchen island.
"Angel!" exclaimed Fred, running downstairs, Gunn close at her heels.
Angel rolled off the countertop, backhanding Spike as he stood up.
"Spike? Angel?" said Dawn from the staircase.
"You wait until she's at her weakest, then you drag her down to your level," said Angel, grabbing Spike's lapels.
"Well I suppose I could just up and leave her, but then, that's been done before, hasn't it," Spike returned.
Angel hit him in response, holding him up by his shirt so he could hit him again.
"What the…" Buffy began, coming up from the basement. "Angel! Stop!"
Angel heard her, but with only Spike's smirking face in his field of vision, he couldn't force his fingers to let go.
Hit him again! This is fun!
A second later, he felt his fingers being pried off Spike's shirt. He was shoved – hard – away from the other vampire.
Buffy turned around, hands on her hips. "Dawn. Upstairs."
The teenager glared at her sister before stomping upstairs. Spike took that moment to said, very quietly so that only Angel could hear: "Are you mad because she's got a little darkness in her, or because I'm the one that gets to explore it?"
Can I answer that one?
Spike went flying, crashing into the wall. Ready to go some more, he went for Angel, until Buffy stepped in his way, shoving both vampires away from each other. Spike hit the wall again while Angel crashed into the countertop.
"That's enough! My God, I can't believe I have two centuries-old vampires here acting like little kids fighting over a toy!"
Did she just call herself a sex toy?
"He took advantage of you!" said Angel.
"Me? She took advantage of me, more like!"
Buffy rubbed her forehead in irritation, trying to keep her patience.
"He's what's been keeping you down!" Angel snarled.
"Yeah, and she likes it!" said Spike.
Angel started towards Spike, but Buffy pushed him back again. "Stop it."
"You deserve better than this, Buffy."
Buffy fixed Angel with a steely look. "What I deserve, and I think have earned by this point, is to fight my own battles. You can't put all the blame on him, Angel."
Angel muttered something that sounded suspiciously like "watch me," but Buffy had already turned around.
The smirk fell from Spike's lips at her tone.
Angel watched the two of them disappear into the basement until Gunn let out a low whistle, startling him out of his reverie.
"And you say she's lost her fire?"
"Did I miss something?" asked a bleary-eyed Cordelia, trudging down the stairs
Buffy led Spike down the stairs, steeling herself for what she was about to say.
Spike smirked at the bid she had been setting up before the fight had brought her upstairs. "Well now," he said, his voice suggestive.
"What?" She followed his gaze to the bed. "Oh. No! That's not…" Turning him around so that his back was to the bed, she sighed. "This really isn't how I wanted to do this…"
"Ahh wait," he said. "This is your 'we can't do this anymore' tone."
"I've heard this tune before, luv," he said, taking a step towards her. "I think I have the bloody sheet music."
She looked at him, her eyes steady. "Spike. It's over."
The look in her eyes gave him pause for the first time. He turned away from her, taking a step back before turning back. "And what makes this time so different?" he asked.
She looked away, confirming his suspicions.
"Because the big Pouf is here now? Because last I checked, he can't give you what you need without going all 'destroy the world.'"
"You going to come crawling back to me when he up and leaves you again?"
"No," she said, a slight tremor making its way into her voice. "I'm not doing this for him."
"Bollocks," he said, the word an expression of disbelief and a curse all at once.
"This is for me."
"For you," he repeated dully.
"Spike, I've been using you-"
"Right," he said, "heard that one before, too. Now ask me if I care."
"I do," she said, with a quiet firmness he hadn't heard from her before.
The moment stretched on in silence before she turned to leave. She had almost made it to the stairs when she stopped and turned back to him. "Thank you, William," she said quietly.
His head snapped up in confusion.
"For being there for me when I needed it most. Thank you."
Unable to take the look on his face, she turned and left the basement.