“You’re leaving? But… But… What about school and… Slaying! You can’t do slaying in Sunnydale if you’re not here.”
Buffy stopped throwing things into her bag long enough to look up at her sister. “Dawn, listen – if it were up to me I wouldn’t go-“
“But it IS up to you Buffy. You can’t just leave! You just started getting your life back and…”
Sighing, Buffy shook her head, “This is Angel. I can’t just leave him wherever he is. The girl that called? She sounded really worried, Dawn. If there’s even a chance that I can help Angel, I have to.”
Dawn frowned, “Right. I forgot. This is the work you have to do. Forget about your family.” The frustrated teen stormed out of her sister’s bedroom, leaving a just-as-frustrated Buffy standing behind, a bag in her hands.
She’d received the phone call that morning and worried herself sick for most of the school day. Both Cordelia and Angel had gone missing – months ago and Fred, the girl who’d called, had said that maybe they’d gone on vacation together but she really kind of doubted it since three months was a long time to wait for someone to come back or even call. Fred said that maybe they were dead but that she didn’t want to admit that and that calling Buffy was like a last ditch attempt.
She’d babbled. A lot.
Buffy had worried. A lot.
Finally, when the Principal had found Buffy in the process of snapping every single pencil in her reach, he’d suggested a couple of days off to get whatever was bothering her out of her system.
At first, she’d hesitated, said that nothing was bothering her… Until Principal Wood had looked at the box of broken pencils on the table and quirked an eyebrow.
“Ms. Summers… As much as you’re still the only parent… SISTER…” He amended off her look, “That’s volunteering, our budget doesn’t stretch as far as to cover that many pencils. Go. Sort it out. We can survive the couple of days you’re gone.”
Buffy looked at him, “You realise you just put a jinx on yourself by saying that?”
“Don’t worry, everything will be-“
“You’re just about to commit jinx number two! With my sister in this school!”
Principal Wood laughed and watched as Buffy picked up her coat, her eyes settling on his as she neared him at the door. “Thank you.”
Now, Buffy stood alone in her room irritated at having encountered the wrath of her sister with a simple explanation. Shaking her head, Buffy placed the bag down on the bed and walked to Dawn’s room, bracing herself for the argument that was sure to come.
“Xander said he’d stay with you,” Offered Buffy gently, leaning against the doorframe of her sisters room, knowing full well that Dawn had once had a crush on her best friend. “And he promised me that parties would be to a minimum… That’s not ’cause I don’t trust you. It’s just that Buffy-house-parties have never ended well…”
“So it’s a good thing I’m NOT you. Besides, who am I gonna invite? My total of three friends from school? Wow, let’s trash the house…” Said Dawn, rolling her eyes.
Buffy sighed, “I’m not doing this to spite you or… I’m not doing any of this other than the reason that it’s Angel, that it’s a guy I once loved and that…”
“And that once again, your ‘work’ turns into something that could lose you your job AND your family.” Finished Dawn, “Save it. I’ve heard it.”
Occasionally, Buffy was a little slow at catching on, but not today. Something in Dawn’s tone of voice, even the way she was acting, told Buffy that there was something more to this. Something she hadn’t quite pinpointed yet. “What is it?” She asked softly, sitting down on the end of her bed. “Really. What is it?”
“It’s just,” Dawn paused a moment, as if trying to think of the right way to word her answer without sounding like an idiot or worse, a spoiled brat. “It’s just it seems like a pattern, you dropping everything to rush to Angel and I know I’m being stupid but… What if you two… Y’know?”
“That’s something you really DON’T have to worry about.” Said Buffy firmly, “Angel and I? In the past. Not looking to become repeato gal on past mistakes…”
“You’re telling me you don’t still love Angel?” Asked Dawn, sceptically.
“No,” She replied, shaking her head. “I love Angel, I will always love Angel. But I’m not IN love with him now. It’s… We’ve grown apart, Dawn. First loves tend to do that.”
Thinking for a moment, Dawn looked up, “And I can really have a party?”
“A SMALL one.” Said Buffy, firmly. “With Xander supervision…”
“Okay, well Xander calling up to check on you every hour to make sure the house is still standing. Deal?”
“Deal…” Said Dawn, softly as Buffy turned to leave. “Buffy?”
She turned back round to look at her sister, eyebrow quirked, “No beer. Beer bad…”
“No, I was just going to say… Whatever you find up there, just… Be careful… Okay?”
“Careful’s my middle name. Buffy Careful Anne Summers…”
* * * * *
“Believe me,” Said Lorne, trying to make himself heard over the din, “When I envisioned my ride back to LA? This wasn’t it!”
Of course, when he’d thought about his trip back to LA – he saw lights, bright lights and fame and stardom and there was definitely a limo thrown in there for good measure.
Riding in the back of a pick up truck was NOT his idea of glamour and glitz. Especially not when you had chicken poop and other such anomalies trying to attach itself to your clothes.
“I-I still don’t know why we’re going to LA.” Said Anna, gently. “My home is…”
“Not there.” Lorne shook his head and placed his hand over hers. “Your home isn’t even LA but to help you we have to help somebody else first…”
Why she’d trusted him, Anna didn’t know. The eyes? Maybe… Something else? She wasn’t sure.
Hope. Hope was a good reason, she had to believe that there was more to life than what she’d been living. Had to believe that her dream world, her nice and safe dream world was something that was real. How could something so vivid not be?
The pickup truck hit a particularly bumpy patch in the road and squealed unappreciatively. Lorne frowned, remembering Gunn’s nice and particularly SAFE truck. Hadn’t this guy even thought about something like that? Sure, lack of soul but… Not that many people actually had souls these days. It was a growing trend, he was sure…
“Why are you helping me?” Anna’s voice was soft, her eyes open and guileless as she watched the green demon guy sigh.
“I wish my motives were completely innocent, but they’re not. I would have helped you regardless, no doubt about that but… A friend of mine needs help and I saw that in you.” Lorne paused a moment, glancing at Anna, “I’m not sure I believe what’s happened to him but I have a feeling that once I get that sorted out the stuff I need to help you with might just fall into place. What’s happened to him, I’m not quite sure I believe myself but I have a feeling that once I get that sorted, the stuff I need to help you with might just fall into place. Besides, I help people. The helpless. And back there in that bar you were looking pretty helpless to me…”
“So, you’re helping me to help somebody else, but it’s not just for yourself?” Why was that so important? Why was she so damned reluctant to believe that somebody would want to help her out of the goodness of their heart? Because those kind of people… They didn’t exist. They were for dreamers and irrationalists who hadn’t lived the life she had…
Which worked in theory except Anna didn’t actually KNOW any kind of life except that in Vegas. She remembered nothing except the bustle of the Beer Lounge, Lorne’s voice.
What kind of life was that?
What kind of life indeed? She thought
* * * * *
“The programme’s been implemented. She remembers nothing?” Asked Linwood, glancing curtly at Lilah.
“Nothing, Sir.” She smiled, “The demons arrived this morning at 9.20, took what information they could from her on the whereabouts of Angel and completed the ritual. Her soul is now in safe hands, she’s ready for the next part of the project.”
“And she’s adapting well?”
“Exceedingly so,” Said Lilah, “Her training sessions have been running into late afternoon and from what I could gather, she’s already adapted some minor form of fighting skills and sword handling. Whether that’s from her time with Angel, I’m not entirely certain.”
Linwood nodded, placing the pen down on the desk and looking round the table at the board meeting he’d ordered held that afternoon. “Well, gentleman… And ladies,” He said, extending a smile to Lilah. “Excellent work, it seems like Mr. Adams and Ms. Morgan are making quite the team on this new project of ours.”
Applause rang throughout the room, Lilah and her new consort basking in the warm and certainly fuzzy feelings it brought.
For Lilah, this was as much about her job as it was pissing Wesley off. She knew he knew something she didn’t. It would serve him right if that little bitch went after him once she’d been properly trained. In fact, thought Lilah as her brain worked overtime. I think I may just do that.
Her head snapped up, watching as Gavin smirked, “Sorry, Sir?”
“Angel? What of him?”
“Our sources inform us that they’ve located him but are experiencing some difficulties in getting him on dry land.” Said Lilah, glancing at her notes, “It could be a while yet.”
Linwood smiled, “Good. I want Angel to be there when the fireworks begin. That’s all.” With a wave of his hand, Linwood dismissed them, sitting tight until Lilah stood, the last one as always, to leave the room. “Lilah?”
She turned, clutching her briefcase and stared directly at Linwood. She could almost feel the nervousness wash over the man, the same nervousness she’d seen in clients and various other people that Lilah could intimidate. She battled to hold the triumphant smile that was tugging at the corners of her mouth and quirked an eyebrow, “Yes Sir?”
“I’ve been hearing some… Interesting things about you, Lilah. Your connections outside of the office?” Flinching slightly at the mention of her ‘private’ life, Lilah raised a hand and smoothed down her hair, a frown on her face. “I want you to know that whatever you do outside for the good of the company is much appreciated and that with someone like Mr. Wyndam-Pryce on our team, we could really benefit.”
“Don’t lie to me, Lilah,” Said Linwood, “Not when you’ve only JUST managed to redeem yourself.”
“Yes, Sir.” Said Lilah, through gritted teeth, “Is that all?”
“That’s all,” He nodded. “Oh, and Lilah? Congratulations again.” He smirked, watching as she walked away. Actually, she’d done more than redeem herself, but it didn’t help to let employees think they were safe in the workplace. That would be against the Wolfram and Hart ethical code.
* * * * *
Remind me never to drive up here again, thought Buffy. She glanced nervously in her rear-view mirror as she circled the same block for what felt like the hundredth time.
“You can’t miss it,” Fred had informed her, “It’s a great big hotel… 68 rooms, 66 vacancies when Angel’s not here… I live in a room, Connor lives in one. Pretty big.”
“Who’s Connor?” Buffy asked, assuming it was just someone Angel had employed to help or… A friend maybe. It made her realise just how out of his life she was.
“Oh, he’s… Um, he works here.” She’d said, a little nervously.
Buffy had thought no more of it. She’d went and groveled to Xander for the use of his car, worried about Angel, then Cordelia and — more importantly — Dawn, who now seemed keen on Buffy going away.
And now… Well, it was getting dark and the ‘unmissable’ hotel was still nowhere in sight. Taking out her map again, Buffy looked down… Which was when she noticed. A coffee stain! Covering a street and… Growling in frustration, she slammed her fist down on the steering wheel, causing the car horn to beep LOUDLY and attract other beepers in turn.
Stupid Xander with his stupid map and… God, she was tired. And her neck was starting to crick. Pulling into the parking lot, Buffy removed the keys from the ignition and locked the car, following Xander’s request to look after his ‘baby’ and to bring him back something tacky, like some Angel-dust, to which Buffy had thwacked him on the arm. He could at least have been nice!
The hotel was definitely big – and impressive. She couldn’t believe Angel had swapped his last place for this! “Wow,” She whistled, appreciatively, glancing upwards at the massive hotel. How could Angel even afford this? As far as she was aware, Angel wasn’t rich the last time she’d been here… But then, she and Angel hadn’t exactly been on the best of terms back then.
Buffy winced and took a deep breath, walking into the courtyard. Focus, Buffy. She reminded herself, Not here to dredge up the past. Well, unless Angel needs dredging from somewhere… That thought ended as briefly as it had begun, hurt zipping through her chest. What if Angel really was dead? They weren’t in each others lives any more, fine. But… Angel dead? Even now the thought of that made it seem like someone was wrapping their fingers around her windpipe and squeezing until there was no oxygen left.
Shaking off the more than depressing thoughts, Buffy pushed open the door of the hotel, expecting to be greeted by the girl that had called. Instead, there was a guy, probably Dawn’s age or a bit older.
“Who are you?” Connor interrupted, arms folded across his chest, staring at the pretty woman on the stairs of the hotel. She didn’t belong here, perhaps she was a client. “What do you want?”
“Connor!” Came the chastising voice, “Remember what we talked about? ‘Hi, I’m Connor, we help the helpless, if that’s you, then I’m here to help…’ Remember?!” Asked Fred, a little frustrated. They’d been over this a billion times already.
Buffy turned and looked at the gang assembled in the lobby, “Hi, I’m-“
“Give it up, girl.” Said Gunn with a chuckle, coming from behind the counter, “You ain’t never gonna get him to say it the way you want him to. So, what time’s the B-word getting here?”
“The B-word?” Buffy looked at Gunn, eyebrow raised. “Would that be me? Buffy? The B-Word!”
“Oh!” Fred ran up the stairs and smiled, “Hi… I didn’t know you were you! Welcome to the hotel, I know it’s not really under the nicest of circumstances but… Well, welcome anyway.”
Buffy smiled her thanks and glanced at Connor and then Gunn, “Pretty impressive.”
“Yeah,” Gunn acknowledged, “And a bitch to run if you have no paying clients and have lost two of the most important members of your team.”
“Money problems,” Said Buffy nodding, “I got that pegged, believe me. So… You said that Angel just… Disappeared?” The look that passed across Connor’s face caught Buffy’s attention, he looked… Puzzled… And kind of annoyed, that she’d walked in on something she shouldn’t have.
“Yup,” Fred nodded, “One minute he and Cordelia are laughing on the phone and the next, poof. No either of them.”
Wait a minute, laughing? About what? Thought Buffy, frowning slightly. “So, he just disappeared from the hotel?” Asked Buffy, coming further in to sit down at Fred’s gesture to make herself comfortable.
“He went to meet Cordy,” Said Gunn, “Never came back. Police found Cordy’s car abandoned on the Freeway and Angel’s, by Point Dume, where they were supposed to meet.”
Buffy thought for a moment, running a hand tiredly through her hair, “And you’ve looked everywhere, right? Everywhere you can think of?”
“Of course we have.” Connor snapped.
“Connor, be nice.” Said Fred, softly.
“This is pointless.” Connor frowned, “What can she do that we can’t or haven’t already? We’ve asked ourselves all the questions you’re asking now. My father is GONE and this isn’t helping matters any.”
“The fact that she’s here is helping,” Said Gunn, “She’s not connected, not biased. Gives her an edge over us.”
If Buffy had moved past the ‘Angel’s a Daddy’ comment, she might have been hurt by that. As it were, she was still stuck on the fact that… Two words that should NEVER be in the same sentence were.
Nope, not getting past THAT concept any time soon.
Buffy paled, “F-father? Wh-who… Huh?”
Guiltily, Fred looked at Buffy. “That would be the part I didn’t want you to freak out about on the phone…”
“So, what? You leave it for me to freak out about NOW?! How can Angel have a son? He’s a vampi-“
Oh God… A thought flashed through Buffy’s head. Spike! Sex with Spike! What if she was of the pregnant kind now? What the hell would she do? She could barely afford to feed her and Dawn never mind her, Dawn, and a defenceless, tiny, hungry baby! And Spike as a father? What was he going to teach it, the art of cigarette smoking and frustration and not being the ‘Big Bad’ anymore?
“Oo-kay…” Said Buffy, now close to hyperventilating, “I need an explanation, NOW.”
“Get in line, sweet-cheeks.” Came a voice from the door, “Right now, it seems we’re all looking for answers.”
Glancing up, Buffy frowned. Who the hell was that guy? And why was he covered in what looked like chicken poop?
“Oh, don’t mind me,” He smiled, “And I assure you, the outfit is entirely authentic. Right down to the chicken droppings. What I wouldn’t give for a seabreeze right now…” Turning, he looked at Fred, Gunn and Connor. “Well, aren’t we in for quite the little-“
“Oh my God – TARA?!”
The demon guy had moved out the way and right behind him, right behind that demon guy… Tara. Very dead Tara. Very alive and startled Tara standing in front of her.
Buffy pinched Anna’s arm, once, twice – three times, until her yelp rang through the lobby. “That hurt!”
“You’re you!” Said Buffy, incredulously.
Lorne looked at Anna, the surprise palpable on her face – and though he couldn’t read her properly, her aura was flashing like a neon-sign on Broadway (and he would know) whoever this girl was, ‘Anna’ had met her before, in her dream world.
“Y-you know me?” Whispered Anna, softly, looking up at Lorne, almost for reassurance. “You know w-who I am?”
Buffy stepped forward and nodded, dumbfounded, “Of course I do, I… You’re Tara. Your name is Tara McClay, you used to live in Sunnydale but… But… You died.”
She told herself repeatedly that standing in front of her, it couldn’t be Tara. It wasn’t physically possible but then – hello, brought back from the dead!
“You don’t remember anything?”
Before the girl could answer, Lorne cut in. “Found her wandering, down in Vegas. She’s the girl you know but… She doesn’t know it yet. Her soul’s been jumbled with about a thousand other lost ones, all searching for some place to come out. It did. In her dreams. She dreamt you, but didn’t believe it was true. Then, she sang…”
Not understanding what singing had to do with it and really not caring at that point, Buffy grabbed Anna and wrapped her arms around her, “Oh God, Willow… She’ll be… And Dawnie! Tara, you’re home!”
They hugged until both girls thought they would burst, Anna, because this beautiful, strong and kind girl in front of her, the girl from her dreams was real and she was terrified that if she let her go even for a second, she’d lose that. And Buffy because… Well because Tara was back! And she didn’t know how but it was wonderful.
It was about then, that the temperature in the hotel dropped several degrees. Buffy turned to the sound of the hotel door opening, and a very disheveled Wesley stood at the top of the steps. Unshaven, he looked nothing like the whiny, spineless Watcher Buffy remembered.
“I thought you’d like to know,” He intoned coldly. “Wolfram and Hart have located Angel, down at the docks. If you hurry, I’m sure you can catch them before they do their worst.” And as quickly as he’d appeared, Wesley was gone.
Looking up at Gunn and Fred, Buffy frowned, “I REALLY missed a lot, huh?”