“And there was nothing at all to indicate where the demon had gone?” Giles asked as he studied the pictures Riley had given him with a clinical detachment.
“Nothing,” Kennedy answered from her place on the couch. “It was there one minute and the next it had disappeared.”
“I had some of my men search the area with a few slayers,” Riley said. “They didn’t find anything either.”
“I think the demon was toying with us.”
“I can see that from its artistic endeavors Agent Finn,” Giles said, his voice harsh as he continued to scan the photos.
“But why arrange them like that?” Kennedy asked, a slight shiver crawling up her spine.
“Possibly to pay homage to something,” Giles answered. “Or simply because it wanted to.”
“Fine. So let’s say this demon is paying homage to something,” Riley said as he came to stand beside Giles. “Do we have any idea what that something is?”
Sighing, Giles took his glasses off and pinched the bridge of his nose. “All we have is what you‘ve already been told.”
“Right,” Riley sighed as he eyed the stack of books hiding the surface of the coffee table from view. “Need any help with research?”
“No,” Giles said, and then valiantly fought the smile that tried to break out at the sight of Riley’s relief. “Just make sure that you and your men keep an ear out for any mention of ‘The Father’ and ‘Ktulu’. It is imperative that we find out who or what they are and what the Senior Partners want with them.”
“Will do,” Riley said as he turned and left the hotel room.
“I’m going to bed,” Kennedy said as she too left the room. However, Giles was sure it was more in an effort to get out of research duty than any real desire to get rest.
Kennedy lay in her bed, staring at the ceiling. She was tired but every time she closed her eyes, she kept seeing the pile of bodies from the alley. Kennedy had thought she had seen the worst. She had survived the battle in Sunnydale and had been actively slaying for a year. Still, the sight of the mutilated bodies had done her in and she had reacted like one of the newbies.
Embarrassment and rage filled her. The wanna-be Slayer, Agent Finn, hadn't even blinked at the mess the demon had left but one look and Kennedy was getting reacquainted with her dinner.
No more, she decided. She would not react like a green slayer. She would show them.
The next night, after delivering a set of very strict instructions, Giles stood back and watched while the slayers and the Initiative soldiers combed through the remains of the Wolfram and Hart building. Kennedy was off a bit to his right, directing a group of slayers through a less hazardous section of rubble. Riley was to the left leading a group of soldiers who were trying to stabilize a section of the building.
When they had first arrived in Los Angeles, their primary focus had been finding out what happened to Spike, and killing off any demons left over from Wolfram and Hart’s demon army. Giles should have known the problem would be bigger than a simple recon mission.
“What are you looking for?” came the voice of a small girl from behind Giles. Turning, he saw a little brown haired girl standing just in the circle of light cast by the tall lights the soldiers had set up.
“Nothing that concerns you,” Giles replied gently. “Now run along. This is not a place for children.”
“Oh how sweet!” the girl said as she came forward. “You’re concerned for my safety when really, you should be concerned for your own. That is my building your people are digging around in.”
At her casual warning, Giles eyes narrowed as a distant memory surfaced.
“So which one are you?” Giles asked, his tone cold. “The Wolf, the Ram, or the Hart?”
“I’m all three,” the girl smiled. “And none at all. I am the Senior Partner’s conduit.”
“I thought you could only manifest in the Wolfram and Hart white room?”
Laughter, light and innocent, greeted his question before she shook her head.
“Oh the things we were able to get people to believe,” she said. “Do you honestly think an entity as strong as we are would only be able to manifest in one place? By the way, you might want to look on the left hand side of the building. You only have about twenty minutes before our cleaners come.”
“Why are you giving us this information?” Giles asked. “I would have thought you’d want to keep the advantage.”
“Who says we aren’t?” the girl asked with a tilt of her head. “Besides, I thought you white hats would have already looked over the building. I know Mr. Wyndam-Pryce certainly would have.”
Seeing Giles’ posture stiffen at the mention of Wesley, the girl’s smiled widened.
“Don’t worry Mr. Giles. We just like to keep things interesting.”
Her words echoed inside of Giles’ head long after she had vanished from sight.
“Buffy?” Spike whispered, stunned. He had come running into Dawn’s room upon hearing her screams. He had not been prepared to find the Scoobies standing in the middle of the room with Buffy and Dawn wrapped around each other.
Hearing Spike’s familiar voice, Buffy turned her gaze towards the door. Letting her gaze wander over him, Buffy took in the changes to his appearance. His hair was grown out and it hung over his forehead in a riot of curls. Only the tips remained bleached. His clothes were brown pants and a white long sleeved shirt. A sword hung at his waist. His skin was no longer pale, but carried a light tan. Spike looked almost human.
Stepping away from Dawn, she quickly walked over to Spike. Placing her hand on his cheek, she relished the feel of his soft cool skin under her palm. A wide beaming smile lit up her face as tears filled her eyes.
“Spike,” Buffy said, her voice soft and hesitant. “I didn’t think I’d see you again.”
“How…Why…” Spike tailed off shaking his head in confusion.
“We came here looking for Dawn,” Angel said, interrupting the tender moment between the two.
Focusing his gaze on Angel Spike growled, “Of course she did Peaches! Slayer knew I could take care of myself.”
“Angel! Stop it,” Buffy said, a scowl on her face. Her voice and gaze softening, Buffy focused her attention on Spike again. “We headed for L.A originally to look for you, but then Dawn disappeared and…”
“The Bit comes first,” Spike finished, a smile on his face. “I understand. Though I wish you lot could have come sooner. We had a hell of a fight on our hands.”
“We didn’t find out until after the battle Spike,” Willow replied, her eyes full of regret. “Angel’s message never got through.”
“That‘s all right Red,” Spike said as he ducked his head and gave a lazy shrug of his shoulders. “You all were busy putting you’re lives back together. Though I gotta admit I wasn’t happy to find out about the Slayer’s new boyfriend.”
“New boyfriend?” Willow asked, confusion filling her words for a moment. “Oh you mean the Immortal?”
“Well, yeah. Who else would I be talking about?”
“He wasn’t my boyfriend,” Buffy said as she laid a hand on Spike’s arm.
“But Andrew said you’d moved on,” Spike said, pain filling his eyes. “Said we should do the same.”
“I’m sorry, but I had to let you think that,” Buffy replied, her voice soft and full of regret. “I was trying to find out all I could on how the Immortal worked. We were trying to shut down his operation.”
“And what? You couldn’t slip me a note?” Spike asked, anger filling his words. Taking a step back from her, Spike let his glare roam over everyone in the room. “Until that little ponce Andrew showed up in L.A, all I knew was you were in Europe.”
“I know,” Buffy answered. “I’m sorry, but we didn’t trust Wolfram and Hart. Our operations were too delicate to risk compromising.”
“Nice line of bull Slayer. Did you think it up yourself, or did someone do it for you?”
“What? It’s not bull Spike.”
“Of course not. It’s just a nice way of saying you lot still don’t trust me,” Spike sneered.
“If it helps any I still don’t like you,” Xander said. Seeing the glares focused in his direction, Xander slipped behind Vi and muttered, “Gee, tough crowd.”
“Despite what Xander just said, we do trust you Spike,” Willow replied.
“If you had, you would have told me,” Spike growled. “Instead you thought it was better to let me believe I meant nothing to you.”
“Spike, that’s not how it was!” Buffy pleaded, though her annoyance slipped through. “I’m sorry if you’re upset, but I’m still the slayer and I had a job to do.”
“Don’t, Slayer!” Spike yelled. “Don’t stand there and give me some memorized lines about ‘sacred duty’ and ‘fighting the good fight’. I get it, more now than I ever did in Sunnydale, what with this whole ‘Father of the Key’ prophecy. There’s just one difference, pet. I would have trusted you enough to tell you. You obviously felt it was an inconvenience to tell me.”
Turning, Spike stormed out of the room. When he slammed the door, it banged against the frame so hard the door cracked and bounced open again.
Looking at her sister, Dawn sighed, “I told you guys he’d be pissed.”
“Forget pissed,” Xander said as he finally stopped hiding behind Vi. “I want to know what he meant by ‘Father of the Key’.”
Dinner that night was an eye opening experience for the Scoobies. Long plates of food were set in the center of the tables for the guests, and everyone simply served him or herself. Only royalty were waited on and they sat apart from the rest of the crowd. Since the Scoobies were sitting with some of the lesser nobles, it helped quell some of Buffy’s irritation, but every time she looked over at the king’s table her jealousy would rise again. Spike and Dawn sat next to King Aneirin, who Dawn had described as ‘dreamy’, his advisor Frederic, who had received the description of “A bit like Giles only not English”, and General Einarr, who Buffy had been told was “Spike‘s best friend, besides Draco the talking dragon” and not someone to piss off. Apparently, he was just as good as Giles at giving disapproving lectures. There were also several other influential royals gathered at the table that Dawn had glossed over.
It was hard watching them, laughing, talking, and generally enjoying each other’s company. Buffy knew she had to make things right with Spike, their reunion not being everything she had imagined, but after years of being “The Slayer” with the weight of the world on her shoulders, it was unsettling to have her decisions questioned. However, if she were being honest with herself, Buffy would have to acknowledge that Spike had been making her question her decisions for years. Buffy knew her jealousy was illogical, but she couldn’t help it. No one here seemed to care how hard being the slayer was; they were all hung up on Spike and Dawn.
“Did you hear the Father’s single?” one woman near Buffy whispered to her neighbor. The tone of her voice had Buffy gripping her fork tight enough to bend the handle.
“I heard he paid particular attention to Lady Brin the other night,” her friend answered. “She was quite taken with him.”
“I heard King Aneirin has taken a liking to the Girl-Key,” a man said as he leaned forward to add to the growing gossip.
“He gave her rooms reserved for high ranking royals,” Lady Shir replied, her tone snobbish, indicating the very thought of giving Dawn a nice place to stay was simply scandalous. Bitch, Buffy thought snidely.
“Well she is the Key,” the man rebuked, though his eyes traveled over to where Dawn sat laughing at something Spike had said. Buffy had the urge to gouge his eyes out. No man was allowed to ogle her baby sister.
“This is ridiculous,” Xander muttered under his breath. Looking in his direction Buffy raised an eyebrow and waited for him to elaborate.
“It’s Spike! Sure he’s a good guy now, but I just don‘t see what the big deal is,” Xander finished, shaking his head.
“He’s their savior,” Vi answered with a shrug. To her it was obvious, but it seemed the others didn‘t understand what all the fuss was about. “They’ve spent years frightened because of this Dark One and his minions, praying for the arrival of people some of them had begun to believe didn’t exist. Now Spike and Dawn are here. They’re relieved and in awe of them. I felt the same way when I met Buffy and Faith for the first time.”
“It’s not the same,” Angel insisted. “Buffy and Faith are slayers. They were chosen to save the world. Of course you’d be a little star struck when meeting them.”
“And here Spike and Dawn are the chosen ones,” Vi shot back, eyes flashing. “So tell me Captain Forehead, how is it any different?”
Glowering, Angel turned his attention back to his dinner. Silence settled over the group once more.
As the evening wore on and the food was collected, Buffy noticed people were starting to move around. Some came together in groups, pulling out what looked to Buffy to be playing cards and dice. Others moved to the center of the room to dance, or off to the corners to watch the minstrels play.
Seeing an opportunity, Buffy stood and quickly made her way to where Spike was standing. He was talking to a group of nobles, and judging by the look on his face, was bored to tears. Buffy was childishly pleased to note that Lady Shir was among the group.
“Spike,” Buffy called out, gaining his attention. Turning, Spike simply raised his eyebrow and waited for Buffy to speak. Lady Shir spoke up instead, her voice filled with confusion and disdain.
“My Lord, you…know this person?”
“Bloody right I do,” Spike answered with a shrug. “I’d be careful what you say around her. This one is Lady Dawn’s sister.”
Eyes flickering over Buffy once more, Lady Shir offered a terse smile.
“Well then, I guess you’ve arrived just in time for the festivities. I do hope you and your…friends…enjoy yourselves.” Turning to Spike, her smile became coy. “And I certainly hope to see you later.”
Casting a final dismissive glance Buffy’s way, Lady Shir’s group moved on down to where General Einarr sat. Buffy had to resist the urge to give in to her inner child and stick her tongue out at the woman.
Bringing her eyes back towards Spike, Buffy swallowed down the lump trying to lodge itself in her throat. Her stomach felt like a herd of butterflies had been trapped inside and were trying to fight their way out. She couldn’t remember the last time she had been this nervous. It was ridiculous really, since she was only talking to Spike. However, when Buffy remembered how well their last conversation had gone, her palms got sweaty.
“Um, hey,” Buffy mumbled as her planned speech took flight and flew from her memory.
“Slayer,” Spike nodded his tone quiet and formal.
“Look, I’m sorry alright?” Buffy blurted out, louder than she expected to. Seeing the looks she was getting she wrapped her arms around herself. “Can we talk about this somewhere else?”
Noticing their audience, Spike nodded. Leading Buffy to the empty hallway just beyond the banquet hall, he turned to face her, arms crossed.
“I thought we were past this?”
“And I thought you trusted me,” Spike replied. “Bloody stupid of me, now that I think about it.”
“Spike, don’t do this,” Buffy pleaded as she fought to keep her annoyance from creeping into her voice. She just wanted things to be like they were when Spike would forgive her practically anything.
“What did you expect me to do huh, Buffy?” Spike snapped. “Listen to all of your pretty words, and then throw myself at your feet declaring you my ‘Golden Goddess’? Please! If I did that pet, you’d pop me in the nose. Bloody hell, I‘d want to hit me!”
“Spike, I had a job to do!” Buffy insisted, forgetting her plan to make things right as her emotions got the better of her. “Besides, you weren’t going to tell me you were alive.”
“Gee Slayer, why would I ever do something like that?” Spike hissed, blue eyes flashing yellow. “And now I have a job to do, and you’re keeping me from it.”
The next day Spike was still pissed, though more at himself than Buffy. He and Buffy had been reunited for all of five minutes before the fighting began. It was no wonder she had kept him at arm’s length, Spike thought. They always seemed to bring out the worst in each other.
Sighing, Spike settled down in one of the overstuffed chairs in his room. A small simple lunch was resting on the coffee table before him, a decanter of blood next to the tray. Once King Aneirin had learned of Spike’s love of human food, he had made sure the kitchen staff knew to include a small portion of the day’s meal with Spike’s blood. The gesture spoke of acceptance and it touched a part of Spike’s soul that had been resigned to being an outcast. It only made the Scoobies reluctance to accept him all the more painful. Here in Ærworuld, he had done nothing but show up and pledge to fight in their war and the people, for the most part, accepted him. Spike had fought by the Scoobies’ side for three years, at first reluctantly and then willingly, and they still did not trust him. It hurt more than Spike thought it would and he wondered briefly if his death had fazed them at all.
Pushing the depressing thoughts from his mind, Spike focused on his meal. He only had a few moments of quiet before his meeting with King Aneirin. A delegation from a small island kingdom, Croshka if Spike remembered correctly, wanted to meet him. Spike figured the meeting was due to simple curiosity, but reckoned since Aneirin was nice enough to ask, then he would attend.
He was almost finished with his lunch when a firm knock sounded at his door. Knowing Einarr would be arriving soon, Spike thought nothing of calling out a simple, “Come in.”
“Almost done, mate,” Spike said as he sat his glass down on the tray. “Just give me a minute to clean up a bit. You damn near ran me ragged today.”
“Sure I’ll give you a minute, but I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
The unexpected sound of Xander Harris’ voice caused Spike to nearly fall off his chair.
“Bloody hell, Harris!” Spike said as he righted himself. “I thought you were someone else.”
“Yeah I noticed.” Xander shrugged. Walking forward, Xander settled into the chair across from Spike’s. He kept fiddling with his hands and his eye never stayed on Spike for long. Spike could hear Xander’s heart beating rapidly in his chest. For some reason Xander was nervous, and for the life of him, Spike could not figure out why.
“Are you going to tell my why you’re here?” Spike asked. “Or are you just going to sit there not staring at me?”
“Very funny Not-So-Evil Undead,” Xander said, a hint of his usual sarcasm lacing his words. Spike simply cocked his head to the side and raised his eyebrow.
Taking a deep breath, Xander muttered quickly, “I’m sorry you think we still hate you and you really need to talk to Buffy.”
For a few silent moments, Spike stared at Xander, a confused look on his face. Leaning forward, Spike gently patted Xander on his shoulder.
“Don’t worry, mate,” Spike said calmly. “I’m sure we can get Red to exorcize whatever demon is possessing you.”
“I’m not possessed!” Xander grumbled as he slapped Spike’s hand away.
“You sure about that Harris?” Spike asked, eyes narrowed. “Cause I believe you just told me that one, you lot don’t hate me and two, that I should go talk to Buffy.”
Rolling his eye, Xander let out a disgruntled snort. “I did.”
“Because she loves you,” Xander said as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. “Yeah, we made a mistake not telling you about the Immortal but that doesn’t change the facts. Besides, you never know how long you’ve got.”
At Spike’s words, Xander’s eye widened. “Huh?”
“About Anya.” Spike clarified. “She was a good one.”
“Yeah, she was,” Xander said as his gaze focused inward. “She would have hated it here though.”
“Maybe not,” Spike said with a chuckle. “Andreas Bay might have appealed to her love of Capitalism.”
“Maybe,” Xander said with a nod. “But it would be a bit too conservative for her.”
Spike couldn’t help but laugh at the image Xander’s words evoked. He could clearly see the horrified looks Anya’s blunt manner would have received.
Standing, Xander nodded before heading towards the door. Before leaving he paused and said softly over his shoulder, “Just think about what I said,” and quietly closed the door.
Shaking his head, Spike cleaned up the remains of his lunch. He never thought he’d see the day when Xander, of all people, would encourage him to pursue Buffy.