"Hey guys," she called out cheerily. Had she stopped touching him because her friends were approaching? He turned to face them half expecting to see Spike despite her claims he had died. He was not prepared for the patch over Xander's eye or the look in Willow's eyes. Gone was the innocence and naiveté he had seen seven years ago. Both looked older, evidence that they had seen far too much for their twenty-three years and could not go back. Giles looked older as well, but it was different. He had come to Sunnydale prepared for things, though probably not to the extent that they happened. Angel did not know the other two, but presumed they were additional survivors.
"Hi Angel," Willow said, gracing him with a wide smile. The smile reminded him of the Willow he had first met who had encouraged Buffy to spend time with him. "It's nice to see you when I'm not restoring your soul. Again."
"It's nice to see you intact Angel," Giles acknowledged politely, but with a flare of formality to it that bothered Angel. Would he ever be forgiven for the acts he committed to these people as Angelus?
"Dead Boy," Xander said with a cordial nod of his head.
"Hey," Faith said, short and sweet but Angel knew she was happy to see he was okay. The sentiment ran both ways.
"Hey," Angel said almost shyly and mentally kicked himself for reverting back to the old Angel.
"This is Robin and Kennedy," Buffy said, indicating the two people Angel did not know. "Except for the couple hundred or so that escaped before everything went down, we're all that's left. Well, there are three other slayers back at the house but they didn't want to come with."
"They thought it might be overkill," Kennedy interjected.
"Aren't you a slayer, too?" Angel asked her.
"I didn't say I thought it would be overkill," Kennedy said with a pout that he imagined was supposed to be sultry, but it did not quite work. Angel thought she was a little too smug given the circumstances.
"But she's not here as a slayer," Willow said and smiled. It was a smile clearly meant for Kennedy, a lover's smile that Angel found he was a little envious of. Angel had only seen Willow with Oz, so it was strange to actually see her with a girlfriend.
"So, what did you find out?" Buffy asked. Angel hoped she was not setting herself up for disappointment. He admired her for attempting to find all of these new slayers, but the likelihood that any would want to leave their homes to come to Los Angeles with total strangers was not good.
"Well, it's the strangest thing," Willow said softly, nibbling on her lower lip.
"What?" Buffy asked and Angel could tell she was about to panic. He placed what he hoped was a calming hand on her shoulder, which seemed to do the trick. He could feel her breathing even out and he smiled slightly because if he breathed her touching him would not calm him.
"The potentials," she said. Even Angel could tell she was perplexed by the situation.
"Well, maybe they just went out? Off campus? I mean, it is Friday night."
"No, Buffy, the spots, they're gone. All of them are gone."
"But you said there were like a ton all over this area," Buffy said. She stepped toward Willow, dislodging Angel's hand from her shoulder.
"Right," Willow shrugged. "I don't understand it. I want to go back to the house and try the spell again. The only thing I can think of is there's some magical interference on campus here."
"How far is your house from here," Angel asked.
"It's about forty miles south of here, we just stopped the first place out of Sunnydale we saw that looked habitable," Giles replied.
"My offices are only about twenty minutes from here. We have plenty of room, you're welcome to do the spell there," Angel offered. "Then you wouldn't have to drive all the way home and back again if you find it is magic interfering."
"That'd be great," Buffy said before anyone could object.
"I don't know, Buff," Xander cautioned.
"I agree with Angel and B, let's save ourselves some drive time. Willow can do her spell and we can hang for a while, if it still doesn't work then head back for the night."
"Faith is right, it can't hurt to try it again locally and then go from there. It's entirely possible there's something on campus preventing us from doing a spell of this magnitude here."
Angel chuckled lightly at the defeated look on Xander's face. There was no love lost between the two of them and he doubted no amount of time would fix that. Buffy could go on and marry someone who was not one of them and they would still have this problem between them.
"Are you sure it's not a problem, Angel?" Buffy asked, her hazel eyes intense as they watched him.
"Not at all, Buffy," he replied. He would have to tell her the truth, the whole truth one day soon but for now she had enough to worry about.
"Let's go then."
"Let me guess," Xander said sardonically. "You're going to ride with Angel."
"I was thinking about it, that bus doesn't rate very high in the comfort level as far as I'm concerned."
"You're traveling around in a bus?" Angel asked in disbelief.
"It's what we got out of Sunnydale in. We have a car to drive around in, but when the group of us go places it's all we have that we can all fit in."
He chuckled softly. "It makes sense I guess, but surely we can come up with something more comfortable for you than a bus if you're going to be traveling."
"We're not too worried about it, especially if we're going to be driving around collecting people, we'll need the room."
Angel wrote directions to the Wolfram & Hart offices on a piece of paper for Giles, handing it to him as Buffy spoke. "We need to wait for Dawn and Andrew."
"We can wait for them, Buffy," Willow offered. "Go on ahead."
"No, we'll wait, you go on ahead," Angel said and felt Buffy's eyes on him. "Wesley should be there, so just ask for him in the reception area. I'll call ahead so he knows to set things up for you."
"Are you sure?" Giles asked.
"Sure, I know Buffy will worry if you guys wait for Dawn so we may as well wait so the rest of you don't have to worry."
"Okay then, are we all here," Giles asked as he took inventory of those present. "Let's go then."
"Giles really does like to be in charge, doesn't he," Kennedy said softly to Willow, though Angel picked up on the comment and could not help but chuckle softly.
"Thanks," Buffy said as they moved to sit on a bench while they waited for Dawn and Andrew.
"No problem, I know how you worry about her, and it's not like I have pressing plans or anything."
"I'm glad," she said and Angel could tell she was sincere.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com