Angel sat at the table watching the others as they ate their Chinese takeout. They did not normally eat as a group. Even though they all lived in the Hyperion they did their own thing. They were coworkers and while there was more to their relationship than that, they certainly were not family. Friendship was probably too simple a word to apply to it, but as he glanced at the four humans at the table he had a feeling of belonging he had missed.
"I'd forgotten how good Chinese food can be," Buffy said in between bites.
"Definitely," Cordelia was quick to agree. "I don't know how I survived in Sunnydale as long as I did. Everything in LA is better."
"I imagine not living on the hellmouth might have something to do with that," Buffy said dryly.
"Maybe, but we have our share of demons and what not here, too, you know."
"I do know, Cordelia. I'm from here, remember?"
"Oh, that's right, I forgot."
An alarm went off and Angel stood. "It's just someone coming into the lobby. I'll get it, you all eat."
Buffy glanced at the clock and looked at Angel, he could see her concern. It was well past seven o'clock in the evening, a little late for clients walking in off the street. But then again, in this line of work there was no such thing as banker's hours. It was one thing that he had to his advantage being a vampire and being awake nights, someone was always on duty to take a call.
He left the room and walked to the lobby, a smile came to his face when he spotted Willow and Dawn. "Angel," Dawn said and closed the distance between them quickly. Angel gave her the hug he should have given her months ago but had been too stuck in his own world to do it.
"Hey Dawn, good to see you, kiddo. You've grown up," he said, drawing away. He regarded her, remembering the first time he saw her. She had been eleven, still in elementary school. That was not true; Angel knew that Dawn had not existed until about fourteen months ago. But the memories were still there. Memories of Angel fearing what Drusilla might do if she discovered the Slayer had a younger sister when she and Spike had first arrived in Sunnydale.
"Yeah, well, that's what you get for staying away for so long."
Angel had no come back to that, she was right, he had stayed away too long. She knew why, though, he knew that. "Hey, Willow," he said to Buffy's best friend. Angel still did not know how to treat her given what Buffy had told them earlier that morning about having to dig herself out of her coffin. "Glad you guys could make it. We're in the other room; Chinese takeout was the meal de jour."
"We already ate actually," Dawn said, pushing some of her hair behind her ear. A gesture that was so Buffy it was a little scary.
"I've got your bloody bags, now we are staying here, right? Oh, hello, Peaches," Spike said from the front doorway.
"Spike," Angel replied evenly, remembering Buffy said he had been the one to treat her right after she had come back. And that he had stayed in Sunnydale to look after Dawn after Buffy had died. "I didn't realize you were coming."
"Well, when Red mentioned needing my chains, I had to know what exactly it was the Slayer needed them for. Besides, they cost me a pretty penny, I wasn't about to just up and part with them."
"What does she need them for, Angel?" Dawn asked and Angel met Willow's gaze.
"We're not sure she will yet, Dawn."
"I get it it's one of those Dawn's too young to understand things."
"No, it's just something Buffy is trying to keep under wraps for now."
"I don't know what's going on either, Niblet, so I don't think it's an age thing. Peaches here might just be telling you the truth."
"Well, since you're not hungry I'll show you to your rooms. Spike I wasn't planning for you, so I hope you don't mind having to make your own bed."
"I can manage to do that I don't even need sheets, slept on the ground before."
"You can sleep on my floor," Dawn offered.
"I don't think Buffy would like that," Spike and Angel said overlapping one another. Only Spike's "Niblet," at the end of the statement was different.
"I thought I heard familiar voices," Buffy said. "Thanks for coming guys."
"No problem, any excuse to get out of Sunnydale for a night isn't a problem."
"Spike, what are you doing here," Buffy said and Angel sensed her apprehension. He glanced at Spike curiously.
"Slayer," Spike said simply, but there was an underlying tone to his voice that Angel did not like one bit. Buffy had mentioned Spike thinking he was in love with her, but he had thought she was exaggerating. Evidently, she was not. "I just came with the chains, curious what you wanted them for," Spike admitted. "I figured maybe there was a big bad in town you needed them for."
"Hopefully not," Buffy said.
"I was going to show them to their rooms, but if you want to take Willow and Dawn to theirs I'll take Spike to one."
"Sure. Let's go," Buffy said, leading Willow and Dawn up the stairs to their room.
"What are you really doing here, Spike?" Angel asked as he approached his grandchilde.
"I told you, just came with the chains. I guess it's sort of habit to protect the little bit, so I just came along for the ride."
"Good," Angel said, sensing there was more to it than that but he let it go for now. "We were going to go make some rounds in a bit, an extra hand is always welcome."
Spike shrugged. "Sure. Just show me to a room, Peaches, and I'll be out of your way. I could do with some blood if you have some to spare."
Angel placed a hand on Spike's shoulder. "No problem, Spike, my boy," he said and led him to the stairs. He assumed Buffy would want to talk to Willow some in private, and had no idea how long that would take. He had forgotten how nosey Dawn was, that could be a problem if they needed to do some sort of spell. Angel assumed there would be magic involved.
"I'll put you across from Wesley. Dawn and Willow are just down the hall."
"You've got this huge hotel and you put us all in a group."
"It's the only floor that's fully functional, Spike. You're welcome to pull up a piece of floor somewhere else if you want, but none of the showers work either."
Angel opened the door for the room across from Wesley's after stopping at the linen closet to get bedding and towels, which he promptly handed to Spike. "Make yourself at home. Come on down whenever you're ready and I'll show you where the blood is kept."
"Thanks, mate," Spike said, regarding the room. "Nice digs."
"Thanks," Angel said sincerely. This was certainly better than their last meeting had been. Maybe that chip was not so bad after all. "See you later."
"Right," Spike said after a moment's pause. Angel was tempted to ask him what he had really wanted to say, but refrained. It was none of his business and probably better if he did not pursue Spike's train of thought.
"Angel," Buffy said as he was walking down the hall.
"Did you get Willow and Dawn settled?"
"Yeah, Dawn's still in awe of her room and the idea she has her own bathroom, so we may not see her for a while. Willow will be down to talk to Wesley in a while."
"Good," he said, draping an arm around Buffy. He lowered his voice, knowing how sound carried in the old hotel. "Are you all right with Spike being here?"
"Yeah, sure, Spike's fine. I told you he helped while I was gone with Dawn and everything, not to mention the torture he endured from Glory to protect her."
"Just making sure."
"Nothing I could do about it anyway, so no sense being bothered."
"Good point," he lowered his head to nuzzle against Buffy's neck. "Even if they can't find a way to anchor it, we could try out those chains of Spike's you know?"
"Angel," she said and blushed fiercely, which made Angel chuckle. "I don't feel like making love to Mr. Hyde one minute and Dr. Jekyll the next."
"Dr. Jekyll may just surprise you."
"I'll just bet he would, baby, but I want Mr. Hyde maybe with a bit of that Jekyll sprinkled in."
"Hopefully, we'll get to find out just how much of a sprinkling you want."
"Let's spar a bit," Buffy said and Angel realized perhaps he had pushed too far. He had been tempted to correct her little faux pas, but he knew what she was trying to say with the Hyde/Jekyll comparison. Now was not the time to make her feel stupid or that he thought he knew more than she did so he remained quiet about her reversal of personalities.
"Again? Buffy, we went at it for two hours this morning."
"Yeah, and I'm going to be patrolling tonight, I want to loosen up. Besides I like sparring with you it's better than a punching bag."
"You just finished eating."
"I didn't eat that much. Any other excuses?"
"No," he said and walked with her toward the training room.
They wrapped one another's hands and Angel put some music on for them to spar by. It was loud enough to provide some background noise yet not too loud as to distract them. Angel unbuttoned and slipped out of his silk shirt, leaving himself in just his tank undershirt.
In the morning, they had really focused on training, building on the exercises they had worked on together at the mansion before he left Sunnydale. Angel could tell that this time was going to be physical. She wanted a true sparring. Perhaps it was nerves about what was going to be forthcoming once Wesley and Willow put their collective heads together, but Angel was up for a good sparring, too.
He really was surprised at her improvement. She was amazingly fast, amazingly agile, and amazingly perceptive. She seemed to know his moves before he had conscious thought of them. No wonder fighting Glory had been so frustrating for Buffy; Angel could not picture anyone but a god beating her anymore. He just hoped she kept this attitude and enthusiasm up on the playing field.
They were both fast and defended themselves well, well suited to fight one another. Angel knew now without a doubt that if Angelus did return he would be hard pressed to win against this Buffy. Four years ago, Buffy had a chance but not nearly as good a chance as she did now. They did not hold back, both punching and kicking to connect. Neither was aware of the audience that gathered to watch them both so focused on one another and their next move.
Buffy was breathing heavily, but showed no sign of fatigue and Angel was enjoying this battle between them of both brawn and brains that he would not have really noticed even if she had shown signs of being tired. She ducked under one of his high kicks and caught his foot, flipping him so he landed on the mat flat on his back. She landed on top of him, straddling him, her hands at either side of him on the mat. "Good fight," she said softly.
"I can tell you enjoyed it," he said with a wide smile and she blushed. He could not resist reaching up and touching her face, his thumb catching a few beads of perspiration at her hairline.
"That was amazing, guys," Dawn said and Buffy's head jerked up at the intrusion dislodging Angel's hand from touching her.
"Thanks," Buffy said and stood, offering a hand to Angel who took it. Buffy took one of the towels Angel kept in the training room and blotted off her face and neck, leaving it around her neck before tossing one to Angel. "I didn't know we had company."
"It's not very often we get to watch two people make a dance out of it like you two do," Gunn said.
"A dance?" Buffy asked with a frown.
"Sure, you two are flawless," Gunn said. "It's like you have been doing this every day."
"We have," Buffy and Angel said together. "In our heads," Buffy clarified when Gunn looked a little stupefied.
"Say what?" Gunn said.
Buffy blushed and lowered her head. "I'm going to shower before we head out. You can explain it to them if you want. Not that they'll understand it anyway."
"Spike, are you coming with us?"
"Sure, Slayer, you know I don't miss a chance to get a kill."
"Right, another notch on your belt," Buffy said and Angel noticed Spike's frown.
"So you going to explain that to me, Angel?" Gunn asked.
"Well, it's hard to explain, but Buffy and I trained together extensively the year before I left for LA. I think we both just picture one another in our minds when we train, so it's sort of like fighting one another."
"You should see the dreams we share."
"Not being able to get a piece physically, I don't think I'd want to be a fly on the wall in one of your dreams."
Angel's game face was in place and Gunn was pinned up against the wall, his shirtfront clutched in Angel's hands which were balled into fists in a flash. To the naked eye, his movement from point a to point b was probably missed completely. "You treat her with the respect she deserves, you hear me, Gunn? She's not a piece. She's the fucking chosen one, the Slayer, and no one is going to treat her any less than that in front of me."
"Separate," Willow called out and Angel was ripped away from Gunn.
"Okay, Angel, man, no need to vamp out on me. I was just saying, now I understand your moodiness last year when you knew she had a boyfriend. I would have blown a gasket myself, and I certainly wouldn't blame you for dreaming about her. I probably wouldn't have had the willpower you have had, honestly, soul be damned."
Angel clutched his knees, regarding Gunn still in game face. "I let you get away with the comment this morning, boy, but that's it. She's not a mantel piece for you to ogle over."
"It seems to me, Angelus," Spike spoke from the doorway, his arms crossed over his chest. "That you don't have much right to say who can and cannot ogle over her."
"Spike," Willow said, her tone laced with warning. "Not now."
"You don't like my rules, childe, get out of my house," Angel said as he stood to his full height. "I'm going to change. Willow, I assume you will stay behind with Dawn and Wesley."
"Yeah, sure, I wanted to talk with Wesley some anyway."
"Good to see you again, Willow," Wesley said from behind Spike in the doorway. "I've heard you've grown in power and ability, I look forward to hearing about your progress since last we met."
"Thanks," Willow said. "It has been a while."
"Everyone weapon up and be ready to go in ten minutes," Angel said before brushing past those standing in the doorway and left the training room.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com