The evening had started to grow late, and the group had started to split up. Buffy and Spike were doing the dishes, and the rest were sitting in the library.
Cordy watched Anya and Xander confer out of the corner of her eye. The two were whispering to each other urgently, and every once in a while one of them would glance in her and Angel's direction. *Wonder what that's about*, she thought.
Across the room Gunn and Fred were talking to Dawn, and from the look of things they had made fast friends. Wes was casually leaned up against the wall, keeping an eye on everyone in the room. Cordelia shot him a glance which asked *Are you okay?*, and the ex-watcher smirked slightly in return. Cordy knew from his wary demeanor that he, like her, was not yet comfortable back in this place which held such bad memories for them. However, that was to be expected, and for now Wes looked content to watch their old acquaintances with an eagle's sharp eye.
At that moment Willow headed over to Cordy and Angel, giving them a hesitant smile. "Hey, Angel, hey Queen C"
Cordelia fought hard not to wince at the old nickname, for she knew that Willow meant no harm. Yet she couldn't stop memories of high school and Pylea from swamping her mind. The hand that Angel had draped over her arm gave her ever so slight a squeeze, and she smiled, grateful for his compassion.
Willow, however, did not seem to notice her faux pas, and continued, "How are things in LA? You haven't called me in a while, Cordy."
Cordy gave a bit of a nervous laugh. "Oh, you know, demons here, demons there, demons everywhere." She glanced towards Angel, wondering if she should mention Darla, or Holtz, but one glance and she recognized the vampire's forlorn expression. *Okay…*, she thought, *Let's try something else… maybe Lorne? No, no, talking about Lorne will lead to Connor. Uhh…*
Luckily for Cordy, Angel took that moment to speak up. "I hear you're dating a girl named Tara," he remarked casually. "Is she around here somewhere?"
One look at Willow's face, and Cor knew it had been the wrong thing to say. The redhead's eyes darted towards the ground, and when she looked up again, she wore an oddly panicked face. "We… we're not… she went away for a while," Willow stuttered awkwardly.
"Oh! Oh, god, Will, we're sorry," Cordy leapt in.
"It's… it's okay. You didn't know," Willow assured them, though she still looked slightly teary. "Y'know, I think I should go and talk to Buffy… I said I'd check in with her." And with that she darted away.
Cordy glanced over at Angel, who looked a bit panicked himself. "Hey," she murmured. "It's okay. There was no way we could've known."
"Yeah. I just… it's odd. They're so different, and there's all these things they've done which we know nothing about," the vampire replied, his glance firmly fixed on what they could see of Buffy and Spike helping each other out in the kitchen.
*Oh god.*, thought Cordy. *Here we go again. It will be all Buffy brooding, all the time. Why did I agree to this trip ?*
"Well, you have to admit, we're rather different as well."
Cordy jumped, surprised at the third voice. "Jeez, Wes, can't you make some noise when you walk!" she sputtered.
"How horrible of me. Next time would you prefer that I blow a whistle as I walk?"
Cordelia snickered and added, "You may as well wear bells. Xander always used to tell Angel to wear them; they'd probably work for you as well."
Wesley chuckled drily. "I'll take that under advisement. In the meantime, we might want to ask our lovely hosts for information on the new Big Bad."
"That sounds good. We should also probably start patrolling with Buffy. If we're going to be here for the next week or so, we need to get a lay for the land," Angel butted in. Cordy could tell he was in full leader-mode now. He spoke in a calm and confident voice, and he drifted towards the center of the room in order to be heard. "Guys," he said, "This is… fun, but I think we better talk about this Big Bad."
"You're right," replied Buffy. The blond slayer had exited the kitchen, and stood at the side of the room , unnoticed till now. At her side stood Spike. "Willow and Dawn have been doing some research, but Will wants to check up with one last mystical source before she briefs us all." Everyone nodded. Buffy then continued, "There's just, um, one little hitch. The source is in another dimension, and Willow needs help opening up a portal. She said… well, she said that one of you understood a lot about portals, so I was thinking maybe that person could help out, and then those of you who want to can come with me and Spike to patrol." As she said the last part, she glanced at Gunn and Angel, obviously expecting them to be the only ones to come along with her.
However, Gunn wasn't looking back at her. He and the rest of the Fang Gang, save Fred, were glaring at Willow. Gunn was the first to speak up. "I don't care what kind of powerful, mojo-knowing witch you are, you had no right to go volunteering my girl."
At that point Wes added, "It's true Fred knows a bit about portals, but you can't go automatically assuming she'll help out. If you had been a slave in Pylea for five years, you might agree with her."
"I'll do it."
For a moment no one heard the quiet timid voice in the midst of all the arguing. But then it came again.
"I'll do it."
Gunn turned and looked compassionately at Fred, who was staring at her feet. "It's okay, Fred, you ain't have to do anything. Don't let them Sunnydalers intimidate you."
For a moment Fred faltered, but then she lifted her head. "It's alright, Charles. I want to help. I really do." She looked at Willow. "When do we get started?"
"Well, Buffy should take off with the patrollers, and then we'll get going," replied the now slightly nervous-looking witch.
"Okay," Fred said. She walked over to Gunn, and whispered in his ear. Then he nodded.
"Alright, let's get this over with," he muttered. He turned to Buffy and added, "Me, Angel, Wes, and Princess need to get our weapons from the car. Then we'll be out to join you."
For a moment Buffy looked simply shocked. "Wes and Cordelia are joining us?" she asked in a slightly incredulous tone.
"Yes, they are." The calm yet final tone came from Angel. He walked over to his ex, towering over her and Spike. "Wes and Gunn fight best together, and so do me and Cordy." He looked over to Fred. "We'll see you in an hour, Fred. Take care, and be safe."
"I will. You guys be safe too. See y'all soon"
With that, Angel, Wes, Gunn, and Cordy swept out the door, leaving Spike and Buffy to hurry after them.
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