unbeta'd so all mistakes are mine. Thanks to Spikeslovebite for her guidance, and RAE YOU SO ROCK!
New author's note- I can't remember why you rocked with this chapter, Rae, but I wrote it so it must be true! *snerk* And as far as I know, it's still unbeta'd. *headdesk*
"Might I ask why you went against my wishes when I expressly requested that you stay put in Sunnydale?" Giles asked in a tired voice.
Xander looked at the watcher like he was the world's biggest idiot. "Because let's see... maybe because it's Buffy?" he replied, as if that explanation alone resolved every unanswered question in the universe. He turned accusing eyes towards the girl in question, hurt and betrayal in clear evidence on the boyish features that had not changed in the year that she had been gone.
"Buffy, what...? How...? WHY?" he asked in a series of babbling mono-syllables, taking a step to close the gap that Buffy had created between them, as if by sheer proximity alone he would receive the answers he so desperately craved. His school boy crash on his friend had not dimmed in the year she had been missing. If anything, it had solidified and grown until Buffy had been placed on a pedestal far above mortal reach.
Another loud snarl filled the room and all eyes found themselves pinned once more to the tensely coiled vampire whose game face had slid back to distort the normally handsome features. Giles actually found himself taking an involuntary step foward to put himself between Xander and Spike;his eyes breaking free and searching hastily for the nearest weapon in response to the sheer savagery before him.
"Whooo boy! Look out!!" Elaine called out excitedly. She pointed a manicured index finger in Xander's direction. "You there...school boy. Do that again. You know, take another step towards Buffy. Because I like it when Spike does that growly thing. Yeah, I like it a lot." She settled back and waited for the sinister, yet highly sexy reaction from Spike that she was hoping would commence once more.
Elaine noticed the attention now diverted to her. "What?" she cried defensively.
A burst of laughter erupted from Buffy as she regarded her friend before settling her bemused eyes back on Spike.
With a rueful shake of the head, Spike commented, "You're bloody insane, you know that, Elaine?"
"I'll say," Rick agreed heartily, earning him another open palmed slap to his shoulder from his wife. "Ow!"
It didn't take much for Willow to deduce that this was very obviously a normal play of events in Buffy's new life, and she wondered why Giles had not mentioned it in the message he had sent the day before. But then she remembered that Giles' message had been heavy with the cryptic and light on the informative, hence their frantic trip across the country.
Much to Elaine's dismay, Buffy moved away from Xander and crossed the room to stand next to Spike, who immediately wrapped one arm around her waist and brought her possessively against him.
The easy familiarity was yet another clinching piece to the puzzle that was turning out all kinds of wrong, as far as both Willow and Xander were concerned.
Directing an irritated look towards the front door that remained ajar, Spike finally bit out, "Mind closing the bleedin' door there, boy? You're letting all the heat out."
That spurred Willow into motion, the harsh command causing her to jump to comply once she noticed Xander frozen in place, mouth now agape.
Once the door had been closed, Willow turned to look at Buffy, her confusion once again in full evidence.
The silence went on just a fraction too long, giving Xander a chance to snap out of his dumbfounded haze.
"Buffy... what the holy hell are you doing HERE with this.... with Spike!!" Xander suddenly shouted, his mind finally coming to the correct conclusion that Buffy and Spike were a couple. Pent-up anger over the painful separation took hold, causing his voice to be sharp and accusatory.
Beside her, Spike tensed once more, and Buffy braced herself in anticipation. Giles and his derogatory comments were one thing. But she knew if there was one thing that Spike admired - it was intelligence, and Giles possessed an impressive amount.
But Xander? She was currently seeing her old friend though Spike's eyes, and it was not a flattering sight to behold.
However, Spike wasn't the one she should have been worried about.
"Excuse me, little boy..." Elaine broke in scornfully. "And who... exactly... are you?"
Xander drew himself up, taken aback by the question. "I'm Buffy's friend."
Elaine crossed her arms over her chest and stared with a disbelieving look on her face. "Huh, really? Coulda fooled me."
Xander looked to Willow for help. "Yep. We're her best friends," Willow announced,, her voice lacking the necessary conviction.
"Really." Elaine adopted a bored look and threw herself back on the couch, effectively dismissing Buffy's 'friends'. Turning to her husband, she batted her eyelashes. "Honey, could you go get me something to drink?"
"What?" Rick threw back. "Why don't you go get it?"
"In a word? No way in hell." Elaine looked at Buffy pointedly. "Something happened in there today. and if Buffy won't go into her kitchen, there's no way I am going in her kitchen. So, please?" Elaine added an extra whine to her request. "I'll make it worth your while when we get home."
Rick just sighed in resignation and headed for the kitchen.
Spike decided to follow Rick into the kitchen, more than eager to escape, and the palpable tension in the room suddenly eased with the vampire's departure.
With an irritated sigh, Buffy lowered herself onto the couch. This was it. She knew there was no way she could do the avoidy thing anymore, not with Willow and Xander here. The unfairness of it all struck her once more, and she felt her temper flare.
Yes, she had missed her friends. Yes, she had missed her watcher and mother. But... she had not missed her calling and the pressure she'd had to endure because of it. None of them could ever know how much this last year had meant to her, and now here they were, intent on taking it all away. The best thing that had ever happened to her, and she knew they were going to make her choose. Well, they weren't going to like her choice, that much was for sure.
With a pained sigh of inevitability, Buffy gestured Xander and Willow further inside the cozy comfort of her home, gritting her teeth at the put-upon attitude of Xander, who was clearly wondering why the rude woman and her husband weren't leaving.
When everyone was seated in the now crowded living room, Buffy called out, "Hey Spike, coffee would definitely be of the good here... Could you make it?"
"Bloody hell! Don't you people have legs?" Spike snarled in response, but the sounds of coffee preparations were soon heard.
Xander opened his mouth to retort, but the harsh look Giles tossed in his direction had Xander's mouth snapping shut before a word was uttered.
"So... what happened in the kitchen today?" Elaine asked pointedly, her curiosity still piqued. The aura of dread surrounding her friend did not go unnoticed either, and it set Elaine's teeth on edge that her friend was upset again.
"What part of 'trying to repress' did you NOT understand, Elaine?"
Not one to give up, Elaine kept her unwavering stare focused on her friend. But Buffy held firm, pursing her lips together and shaking her head in juvenile defiance.
"Buffy was protecting all mankind from the threat of nesting rodents," Spike supplied derisively, coffee mug in one hand, beer bottle firmly gripped in the other. He handed the mug to the thus far silent Joyce, and glared at the newcomers. "You lot want coffee, you can get off your asses and go get it." He squeezed next to Buffy on the couch, pulling her against him.
"Yeah, like I'd really trust something you had a hand in making," Xander shot off, returning the glare from across the room.
"Oh good lord," Giles muttered, getting up to replenish his drink from the bar, needing something stronger than coffee. A pounding in his temple was beginning to make its presence known.
"Oh my god!" Elaine exclaimed before anybody else could respond. "And you call yourself Buffy's friend?"
"The name is Xander. And excuse me, but this is kind of personal business, so maybe you should just mind your own business." Xander's tone was belligerent as he glared across the room.
"Personal business, my ass. You're making it personal by attacking my friend."
Xander scoffed. "I never attacked Buffy."
Elaine narrowed her eyes. "I wasn't talking about Buffy."
"Please... you call Spike a friend? He's a killer. Did you know that? That Spike's one of those things that kill people?" Xander shot back.
Elaine jumped to her feet and placed her hands on her hips as she coolly regarded the idiotic bigot in front of her. "I am well aware of what Spike is, Pimple Face."
Rick came sauntering into the room. "Elaine, don't pick on the children."
Elaine turned flashing eyes on her husband. "He started it."
Rick turned his eyes upward. "Why me..." he felt the need to ask the ceiling.
Spike was enjoying himself. The look of pure outrage on the whelp's face was priceless, and Elaine's defense of him made him feel better than he'd ever admit to. Not usually one to let others fight his battles, this was one that was too entertaining to interrupt.
"This is none of your business, whoever you are," Xander continued. "Where I come from, we stake vampires."
"You know what? You really need a lesson in manners, you little shit." Elaine began spooling up to deliver her rebuttal when she felt Buffy's hand on her arm.
"Elaine, it's ok."
"No, Buffy, it's not ok!" Elaine glared at Xander. "Your supposed friends come in and all they have managed to do is insult you."
"I NEVER insulted Buffy," Xander insisted once more.
"Hello!! You insulted Spike, what the hell do you think that is?"
"Telling the truth?" Xander replied righteously.
"Xander!" Joyce, Willow and Giles called out in reproach.
Xander turned incredulous eyes in their direction, before narrowing them on Buffy's Watcher. "Oh my god, I don't believe it. You accept this. You. We've been worried about her for a year, and all this time, she's been with HIM." He shook his head in disgust.
"Xander, do sit down and shut up," Giles commanded wearily, his headache intensifying.
Elaine looked at Buffy, eyes wide with outrage. "Can I slap him? No wait! Can Spike eat him? Please!"
"A world of no," Buffy replied firmly, the anger that was working its way to the surface fleeing in light of Elaine's words.
"Oh come on!" Buffy shook her head. "You're no fun," Elaine pouted.
"Yes, he can just go and eat everyone else in this town," Xander commented snidely, his face splotched with anger.
Giles had a sudden case of deja vu, and realized this is exactly how he must have sounded. Heaving a pained sigh, he acknowledged, "The people of this town are quite safe from Spike, Xander. And I do wish you would sit down and shut up. Your prattle is giving me quite a headache."
Elaine looked at the older British man in shock. "Whoa. What did you do with the other stuck-up tight ass that was here last night?"
"Well, it would appear that cleaning up chopped rodent remains is a good method in discovering the truth," Giles announced cryptically, his lip curling in distaste as he recalled the task from earlier.
"Ewww!" Elaine cried, her nose turning up delicately. "Buffy, what did you do???"
"Hello? Repressing? Ring a bell?"
"Yes, I don't think I care to... rehash those events," Joyce announced.
"So, uh... did you manage to decide what we're going to do about Angel?" Willow broke in, anxious to change the subject. Rodent remains -in whatever form- gave her that queasy feeling in her stomach that was so not of the good.
Two blonde heads swung in her direction, shock clearly outlined on both faces. Willow quickly realized her mistake.
Buffy's face turned cold. "What do you mean 'Angel?'
"I uh..you know..." Willow floundered, looking desperately over at Giles.
The headache was now excruciating, and Giles massaged his temple as he contemplated the best way to proceed.
"Giles? What is Willow talking about?"
Another pained sigh was exhaled, and Giles began to attempt an explanation. "This is what I wished to discuss with you, Buffy. However, you wished to know nothing about my business here, if you will recall."
"Yeah, I get that. It's my fault. Continue." The chill had not left Buffy's voice.
"A month ago, Angel returned," Giles announced grimly.
"Is it Angel or Angelus?" Spike interrupted, trying to contain the fury in his voice. He glanced at Buffy, relieved to see her face contained only a cold determination rather than the emotional upheaval he was afraid he would find.
Giles removed the glasses off his face in a gesture that was very familiar to Buffy. "Well, neither of them, actually."
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