Giles couldn't help but notice that right in that moment, Buffy looked the angriest he had ever seen her. Of course, that did not deter Spike and Angel from arguing with each other – this was just what they did. The ex-librarian couldn't hold back a faint smile as, finally losing her patience with the two, she shoved them apart as it started to get physical. "That is ENOUGH! Don't you think that we have enough to worry about without you two getting into it?"
His smile turned into a full grin as Angel actually pouted as he forced himself to resist the urge to push past Buffy to get at Spike – at least the older vampire was smart enough to realise that he didn't stand a chance against Buffy if he was to beat up her lover as he so wished.
"He started it." Angel couldn't help but grouse.
Spike snorted. "Did no such thing, y' poofter! I asked you if you'd seen Buffy, that's it."
Angel growled. "It was the way you said it!"
Buffy stared at the vampire in disbelief as apparently good sense deserted him and he reached for the younger vampire again. "ENOUGH!" She pushed him back once more. "I don't care who started it or why. I am ending it! God... hundreds of years old and you both act like young teenagers around each other."
Spike looked at her, looking somehow both sheepish and amused all at once. "Sorry love – can't say it won't happen again though."
Buffy sighed as she looked at him for a moment then turned her attention to Angel. "Why don't you take a couple of the Potentials out? We could do with some more medical supplies and I think that you could do with some fresh air."
Angel pouted. "So you're chucking me out because of him?" He eyed Spike as a snicker escaped the blonde idiot.
Buffy rubbed at her forehead where a headache seemed to be rapidly developing. "If I were chucking you out Angel, I would tell you to go to L.A... I'm asking you to go to the hospital and see if you can find any medical supplies we could use. Hell, stop off at Willy's if you so desire and have a few beers if there's any left. IF it'll relax you a little."
Spike smirked. "Yeah, you have a few beers while Buffy and I stay here and relax by having se-" He didn't get a chance to finish his sentence as he was thoroughly smacked around the head by Buffy. "Stop it!" He rolled his eyes but did as she said.
"I think I will take that walk actually Buffy. See you later." Buffy sighed as Angel turned and walked away. After a moment of eyeing Spike, she walked away herself, in an opposite direction from the other vampire.
Buffy turned her attention to Giles for a moment. "Clearly Spike as a bit too much energy – can you put him to good use, training some of the Potentials."
This time, Giles really had to work at stifling a chuckle – of all the tasks Spike had to endure, being used as a punch bag by the Potentials as they practiced was the one he hated the most – at least if he was training with Buffy, he got to fight back. Yet he put up with it for Buffy's sake. Watching Spike get beaten on by just about anyone made Giles' day and was certainly worth having to listen to him complain about it. "Yes actually... good timing. I was actually thinking that Sandra and Lisa needed some extra training."
Xander snickered as a pained groan escaped Spike. "And on that note, I'm off to barricade the door after last night's attack." He looked around. "Colette and Dawn, can you come help me?" He led the two young women off to do just that as Giles headed in the opposite direction, a reluctant Spike following behind him.
Willow walked into the room where Angel was currently grumbling to himself about the unfairness of everything. "Hey... sorry to interrupt your brooding but seeing as you're heading out, we wondered – Tara and I – if it'd be alright if we tagged along?"
Angel blinked, surprised. "You actually want to hang out with me?"
Willow shrugged. "Sure, why not? I haven't been talking much to the Gang in L.A. so it'd be nice if you could catch me up on how everyone is doing. It'll also be good to get a change of scenery without a hundred young females following our every step, giggling if Tara and I do so much as hold hands – they're really getting on my nerves at the moment – you think that so many females would be in good form bearing in mind that they're in a shopping mall."
Angel smiled a little at that. "Cordelia would be in heaven if she were here right now..." He sighed and shook his head, not wanting to think about how possibly close she could be to ending up in actual Heaven. "Sure, why not." He frowned and looked a little edgy. "Xander's not coming along though, is he?"
Willow snorted. "Yeah, I don't really think so. I mean, the guy's married now and happy with Anya – blissfully happy even – but when it comes to Buffy, he's still not really that rational. Even though you're not with her anymore, I guess the habit of hatred is just a little too ingrained..." she stopped talking as she noticed the vampire wincing at her unintentional reminder. "Sorry – as if you need to be reminded."
Angel shrugged it off. "It's fine. Be ready in twenty?"
The Sorceress nodded and excused herself.
The visit to the hospital was uneventful – they wisely chose not to bring any of the Potentials along but did bring Dawn. It was easier and quieter and despite her earlier lecture, Buffy's younger sister appeared to be in good spirits and not in the mood to get on Angel's case. The trio picked up as many supplies as they could find and Angel being the strongest had insisted on carrying everything in a backpack. There hadn't been much left - enough to do though, hopefully.
Afterwards, they decided they may as well go to Willy's as per Buffy's earlier suggestion – none of the trio seemed to be in a hurry to get back and in all honesty, Angel found to his surprise that he felt comfortable in the presence of the three women. They reminded him of Cordelia and Fred and there was a great comfort in that given how much had changed in his life back in L.A. over the last year.
They didn't talk about much of consequence as they sat there – mostly about Dawn's studies in witchcraft and how she too seemed to be a natural - nursing a drink each (coke for Dawn, she still wasn't that fond of the taste of alcohol). It was only as they were deciding whether or not to have a second one that Willy made his appearance.
Willow stared, surprised. "Why are you still here?"
Willy looked a little afraid of them (as he always did). "This is my bar. Hope you paid for those drinks. Just because there's another Apocalypse coming, doesn't mean you don't have to pay me – after all, the Slayer will avert it... as she always does."
Willow sighed. "We did but, you should leave – not like there can be anyone left here to buy your drinks. This is the big apocalypse coming - we might not be able to stop it!"
Willy shrugged. "There're still enough demons around to make it viable... even a group of humans, too."
Angel perked up at the thought: fighting the ubervamps was all well and good but there were just so many and no real victims as such. It didn't feel like he was doing anything worthwhile somehow – he supposed he missed L.A. and saving lost individuals. Of course, saving the world from the threat of the First was important obviously but, just so... unrewarding. He didn't get the sense that he had changed a life by removing these particular blights of the face of the earth because there was always another to replace the ones he dispatched. "There are? How many humans are you talking about?"
Willy gave him a look. "Depends... how much are you willing to pay?"
Willow reached out and gently pushed Angel back down as he rose, an expression of fury on his face that the man could try to make money at a time like this. "Willy, how about we don't do this, hmm? Just tell us what we need to know... I mean, not only do you not want to get Angel angry but, do you really want to piss me off?"
Willy wasn't too bothered about the idea of Angel being pissed off – he knew that the women wouldn't allow him to do more than hit him, if that, and he'd survived more than his fair share of beatings in the past - but as the witch's words sunk in, he paled – he had heard about what the woman had been willing to do to Warren... Not that he gave a damn about the freaky man but, he did care about what happened to him. "There's a group of humans hiding up at the Plaza. Too afraid to leave Sunnydale – can't afford to I think or they've lived here their whole life and don't want to risk leaving and going elsewhere." In his haste to get his words out before anything bad happened to him, his words tripped over themselves for a moment but Willow's face cleared after a moment as his words sunk in.
Willow looked at the rest of the group. "We should tell Buffy, get them out of here." The others agreed, naturally, finished their drinks and left. Much to Willy's relief, Willow didn't hurt him... but they did finally convince him to leave Sunnydale – or rather, Willow did with a not-too-subtle threat. He'd be back though. He stayed long enough to seal the bar up and fled finally.
Buffy blew a strand of loose hair away from her face as she looked at Willow. "What on earth would make people stay here? I mean, we don't know what's to come or anything but everyone else has fled. Can't they take the hint that something serious is going to happen?"
Giles sighed with relief as he realised that, for now at least, their training session was over. He moved over to the side of the room and grabbed a towel to wipe the sweat from his brow – he hadn't done anything more energetic than stand there holding a bag for the Slayer to punch but his Slayer was apparently getting stronger... or he was getting too old. He chose to believe it was the former. He sat down and turned his attention to Willow. "Did he say how many?"
Willow shrugged. "Does it matter? One is as bad as a hundred, isn't it?"
Buffy sighed. "I'm guessing that if they've lived in Sunnydale their whole life and are too afraid to leave, they must be old and need the help to get out – in their sixties or so?"
Giles shot her a look. "...and that's certainly not at all offensive, Buffy."
The Slayer shrugged apologetically. "No offense intended. Sorry Giles. Just... it's not like Sunnydale has real old people, is it? Well, unless they're planning to turn into giant snakes or are vampires at any rate."
Spike snorted. "Love, think you could stop digging before you hit the actual hellmouth?"
Buffy looked at him, was about to return with a snarky comment but conceded to herself that perhaps he had a point. "Right. So when are we heading out?"
Seven hours later saw a bloodied, slightly broken and most definitely exhausted group returning to the mall. Willy had been right about the humans but totally wrong about the average age of the group – the oldest one was sixty sure, but the rest couldn't have been more than thirty. Unfortunately a simple rescue mission had turned into something more complicated – apparently they weren't the only people Willy had been talking to. Or perhaps the First had been eavesdropping... didn't really matter – point was that when they'd got there to get the group out, they'd been greeted by them... and a huge group of Bringers and quite a few ubervamps. Good job they had decided to make the outing one for all the Potentials as well as the main group – if only to get them into the fresh air.
There had been no deaths or fatal injuries on the part of the Gang and Potentials but there had certainly been more than enough non-fatal injuries. Worse, just as they thought that they were in the clear and were trying to round up the group to get them out safely, they learned that a mother and daughter were holed upstairs.
When they got there, it was to discover that a stray ubervamp had beaten them to it; that the mother had offered up her daughter to save her own life. The girl couldn't have been any more than ten years old. In pure rage at the scene witnessed, Faith had to be held back from beating the crap out of the mother as Buffy attacked the vamp.
Of course it was sent back to hell but as the dust settled, Buffy realised that the girl was bleeding profusely from a deep gash in her stomach... one that they learned had been inflicted by the mother to entice the vamp. The woman hadn't even had the decency to use a clean knife, had just grabbed a twisted and rusty piece of jagged metal. If the wound itself didn't kill her, chances were high that an infection wouldn't. Of course, infection would have hardly been on the cow's mind, given that she expected the monster to eat her daughter to save her own life.
There had been no time for a discussion as to what to do with the wretched woman so they had simply bundled them all into the bus that Spike brought back. Giles packed the girl's wounds as the discussion raged around them. Apparently the excuse for a mother wasn't well liked in the group – it had been for Julie's sake that she had been brought into the group.
If anyone had asked, Giles would have admitted to being impressed by the restraint that the group showed. Instead of beating the woman black and blue, they settled for dropping her off the bus the moment that they cleared the town's limits - they even ensured that she was in a relatively safe area. Any protests that she may have had were quickly stopped when Spike pointed out that their treatment of her was better than the way she had treated her daughter. That bit had of course gone completely over her head so he produced a bottle of whisky and with it in hand, she wandered off quite happily, smiling as the rescued group threatened to kill her if she ever came near Julie again. The whole episode left a sour taste in Giles' mouth (and that of everyone). He was glad to leave the group safely in the care of the hospital in L.A.
The bus ran out of fuel just as it passed the Plaza again. They ended up walking back to the mall. It was fine. Mostly. There were no more encounters with the First's army but tempers were frayed. It had been a long day and not a particularly nice one. The fact that they had saved a group of citizens was dulled a little by the reminder that there humans out there that could be every bit as evil as any demon.
Noting that Buffy looked as gloomy as his wife currently was, he decided to go talk to her for a while. At least the Slayer wasn't giving him the silent treatment. He hoped.
"Hey Buff... you okay?"
Buffy looked over at him and did her best to smile through the tiredness. "Me? I'm doing great comparatively. I mean, I've only got a ridiculously huge bruise on my shoulder from where that ubervamp tried to club me... you've got that burn down your right side."
Xander winced at the loudness of Buffy's proclamation, cast his gaze to his wife to check that she hadn't heard and breathed a sigh of relief as he noted that the ex-demon was caught up in a discussion with Angel. "Wasn't her fault, Buff. It'd never have happened back in the day... this having one eye business is really crap sometimes."
Buffy apologised. "Sorry. Didn't mean to suggest it was. To be fair, the distraction of the fire coming towards that vamp probably saved Juanita and Jennifer's life. It's just unfortunate that you got blindsided is all. Have to say though, your reflexes are nothing to complain about – fairly certain that if it had been anyone else who'd had a flaming torch aimed at their mid-section out of nowhere, they'd have frozen and been burnt a lot worse rather than just the glancing blow you took."
Xander grinned. "Imagine what I could do if I had sight in both eyes... might even be the hero in this town - if of course, there wasn't you, Willow, Tara, Faith and a couple of hundred Potentials who are all stronger than me, that is."
Buffy smiled wryly. "Being the 'hero' really isn't all it's cracked up to be, Xander. But you have to know that well enough by now... don't you?"
After a moment of thought, Xander agreed then changed the subject to something a little more upbeat.
Anya was feeling guilty. It wasn't really an emotion she liked or had much particular experience with but there was no denying she was feeling it now – she had been trying to save two Potentials who were in the wrong place but as she was swinging that flaming torch at the vamp, Xander had clearly had the same idea – he was moving to stick a sword into the same vamp. The result had been that the torch had scorched along Xander's side. It looked painful and that made her feel bad. In the end, someone else had removed the ubervamp from the scene. She wasn't sure who. She supposed it didn't matter anyway. "Who keeps a lit torch in a Plaza anyway, Angel? It's ridiculous! I mean, we're not living in the dark ages!"
Angel shrugged. "Anya, it's Sunnydale... whether people realise it or not, they've placed things everywhere which can be used to dispatch a vampire."
Anya blinked and thought that over for a moment. "Oh! You're right. Huh."
Angel nodded. "We've met before, haven't we? A couple of centuries back, give or take."
The ex-demon looked confused. "I don't think so. You have a recognisable face. I'm sure I would remember..."
Unsure whether having a recognisable face was a good or bad thing in this context, Angel decided to forget the comment. He nodded slowly. "It was quite a while ago now – back when Dru first turned Spike... you were hanging around with Halfrek who was stalking him."
Anya's face took on a pensive look as she tried to think that far back. "Oh... yes. You had different hair back then... and clothes. Though, I must say that you still dressed very well for a vampire even back then – normally you all get stuck in a rut. Although you could do with little less black – it's a little stereotypical, isn't it?" She shrugged. "Hal was a little obsessed with Spike back in the day. Never did say why." She looked at him, hoping he would shed some light.
Angel snorted. "They knew each other when they were both human. She spurned his advances, then Drusilla turned him and he proceeded to kill everyone who had ever made fun of him – apart from her. Given that she's now a demon, I suspect she didn't react too well to witnessing that particularly gruesome scene. He became very fond of the railway spike as a means to end human life for a while after that. Loved the irony, I guess... a vampire killing a human with a stake." He rolled his eyes and fell silent, surprised that he had said so much in one go.
Anya thought on that. "Huh. That's... I always assumed she became a demon because her father deserted her or was evil to her in some way – would have explained why she had such a soft spot for abandoned children."
Angel thought on that for a moment. "I think her father was there but not among those who were killed. Perhaps he left her to it to save his own skin." He grimaced a little, reminded of Julie's mother. "Some people just aren't fit to be parents." Like he was one to talk! He sighed and looked away.
Anya frowned. "I feel guilty for burning Xander." She couldn't help blurting it out.
Angel was for a moment, lost for words. He had to take a moment to process that. "Oh right. Look, it's not that big a deal, Anya. Yes, it'll be sore for a while but it's not like you did it on purpose, is it?" He smiled as the young woman shook her head fervently, couldn't quite stop the thought that if it had been him holding the torch, he'd have been more than tempted... then again, if it was him holding the torch, he would have had a different – and even more annoying - creature in his sights. He cast his gaze briefly over to the peroxide idiot in question then shook his head - he was a really bad person – whether he liked Spike or not, Buffy loved him and the idiot seemed to make her happy. He should be grateful for that small mercy at least. He pushed the thoughts aside to focus on what Anya was saying. "He doesn't exactly look like a man holding a grudge." He pointed over to the man in question who was laughing at a shared joke between him and Buffy.
Anya sighed even as she acknowledged the fact. "I still feel guilty."
"And you will – and should. It's a reminder that you're human. Mind you, I suspect that even in your demon years, you showed more compassion than that pitiful excuse for a mother that we rescued today." The comment gave Anya a surprising amount of comfort.
Xander had wandered off from Buffy, decided to head over to Robin who was looking bewildered – he'd had some sort of argument with Faith. Probably in relation to the fact that the teacher had thought it wise to jump in front of the Slayer in a fight, to protect her. "Hey, how ya doin'?"
Robin looked at him, an exasperated expression on his face. "Aside from a bruised ego, I'm fine. You?"
Xander glanced briefly down to his side. "I'll live. I take it Faith gave you a lecture."
Robin nodded. "She can take care of herself - message received, loud and clear."
The younger man snorted and shook his head. "Slayers! Nah, scratch that... Women!" He grinned at the other man and they fell into a companionable silence.
It was to Spike's irritation that he realised that not only had Buffy left him to go off and talk to others in the gang but he had drawn level with Angel. He decided though, to be the bigger man – sure, he could point out (again) that he got to be with Buffy rather than Angel but, that point was definitely well and truly made, wasn't it? Besides, mentioning their relationship to the poofter seemed to annoy his Slayer and he didn't want her pissed off at him unless it would result in a fight. Or sex. Or both! This new silent treatment was just really annoying.
It was therefore, rather a bewildering situation he found himself in, having a full-on war of words with the older vampire. He knew that even years later, he'd still be bewildered by how this particular fight had started.
He groaned loudly though, when Buffy was yet again the one to break it up after Angel landed a punch on his face. "Damn it! Not the FACE!"
Buffy shoved them both apart. "Ugh! How many times do I have to split you two up?" She glared at them both in turn and shook her head. Much to his consternation, she gave her attention to Angel. "You okay?" The younger growled. "I'm the one he hit, Slayer."
The Slayer eyed him. "And I'm sure that you did nothing to deserve it!" She shook her head and despaired for a moment. "Stay as far away as possible from each other, okay? Angel, you go over there... Spike, go to the other side. If either of you tries to start anything again before we get back to the mall, I swear to god I'll stake you both!" She glared even more ferociously at them both.
Spike decided it was best to say nothing else, turned and stalked off to talk to Dawn. He took a little comfort from the fact that at least his woman didn't follow the dickhead to offer him comfort.
Dawn looked at Spike and smirked. "You have such a cute, pouty expression right now – makes you look like one of those big-eyed puppies in the poster I had up on my wall at home." When he turned to glare, Dawn only laughed. "Oh please, I'm not scared of you, Big Bad." Spike sagged a little, missing the days now long gone when people showed him respect. "Thanks for that, Little Bit."
The woman laughed again and patted his arm. "Ah don't worry Spike – she's not going to choose him over you... for starters, if she did, I'd have to kick her butt."
Spike brightened considerably. "Now that I think I'd pay to see – you could take him, I know it."
Dawn grinned and flexed the muscles in her arm. "Oh yeah. Angel wouldn't stand a chance against me. He'd be dust before he could even raise a finger." She snorted and shook her head. "It's a good job that I seem to have a flair for magic because while the moves come naturally enough, the training that goes with all the fighting does not."
Spike patted her shoulder consolingly. "Ah, but you've got the moves and the magic – that's a killer combination right there, little bit."
When they got back to the mall, Buffy ensured that everyone was accounted for and getting some form of treatment for their multitude of cuts and bruises then headed outside to sit and think. It didn't really surprise her when a short while later, Angel appeared at her side – or as close as he could get given that it was daylight and he needed to stand in the shade to ensure that he didn't combust. "You okay?"
The Slayer shrugged. "Not exactly a great night, was it?"
Angel snorted and allowed himself to slide down the wall until he was sitting on the ground. "Definitely not in my top ten. This isn't going to be a walk in the park, is it? I mean, today was just a small taster, I'm guessing."
Buffy managed a faint smile. "We're out of our league. Hasn't exactly stopped us in the past though, has it? Who knew we'd get this far!" She looked over at him. "You have to go back to L.A."
More than a little taken aback at her words, Angel could only stare for a moment. "What? Why? You need me here."
A sigh escaped her. "Can't deny that an extra pair of hands would be appreciated but, the fact is that if we can't manage to defeat this thing with the amount of us here already, then one more on our side really isn't going to matter. I shouldn't have let you stay here – it was selfish."
Angel objected. "No. It's not. I want to be here."
Her smile was a little brighter when it came. "Perhaps. But you don't belong here anymore - no offence... you have a life back in L.A. You have people who need you. I've got Spike. It's just not fair of me to keep you here – not fair on you, not fair on him... not fair on Wesley and the rest either."
He looked set to protest again but she stopped him. "It's not that I don't want you here, Angel but, this thing is bigger than us. Bigger than I think that maybe we can deal with... If we fail – and we might - I need to know that you and the rest are ready in L.A. for whatever comes next."
It took a further hour to convince him but finally he reluctantly agreed to go. Buffy hugged him tight and blinked back tears. "Oh! There's something I need to tell you... "Fred... she'll be in danger."
Alarmed, Angel pulled back from her. "In danger? What? When? How can you know that?"
Buffy sighed. "It's too complicated to explain to you right now. Maybe later, after the fight... if I survive... What you need to know though, is that there's a guy – Knox, in the science department." She looked pleased to have remembered his name. At least she had remembered that much because the name of the creature to be resurrected had slipped entirely from her mind. "He's really bad news. He wants to bring back an ancient god-type called Al Leary or something. I forget. Anyway, point is, get rid of him! Or at least force HIM to be the one to open any Egyptian-style coffins rather than Fred. I mean, admittedly the god-type could become a great ally in time but, it's really not worth losing Fred over, is it?"
That was a point that Angel wouldn't even try to contest. He'd lost so much and so many already – he wouldn't lose Fred too. He made a mental note to get rid of Knox to some other part of the firm. Far, FAR away from his friend. He sighed and shook his head. "I'll get rid of him... but I'm holding you to the promise that you'll tell how you know this later, when you're done with this fight."
Though Spike wouldn't admit it, he couldn't help feeling a little sad watching Angel leave the group and head back home but he'd take that secret to his grave with him – or whatever the expression was when it was a vampire talking. He rolled his eyes at the stupid thought... he was turning into a Scooby and no mistake. He looked at Buffy. "You okay, love?"
Buffy looked away from the retreating figure of the car carrying her ex-lover away. "Fine." She couldn't help but worry though. Selfish or not, Angel being there for that amulet would have been the best thing all round but now he was gone. She didn't want to lose Spike... She sighed and nuzzled in to him. "I love you... you know that, right? I mean not only are you the guy I love but, you're my best friend."
Spike blinked in surprise and wrapped an arm around her. Apparently the silent treatment was over, thank God. "I know it. I love you too. Always will."