A/N- This is unbeta'd and the first thing I've written in MONTHS, so you've been warned. This is the final chapter and hopefully I'll be inclined to finish my other wips.
"Oh, calm down, Peaches, and take a load off," Spike bit out, kicking at the empty chair across from him out for Angel to sit in. "Your sulking about is getting a bit old."
Angel had no problem directing his ire at the one he deemed responsible, but managed to lower himself into the chair that Spike had indicated. "Fine, I'm sitting. Now, can sometime please tell me what is going on?"
The uncomfortable silence that followed Angel's heated question lingered heavily and he began to regret insisting upon accompanying Giles to seek his own brand of reassurance. Truth be told, he was still feeling a little crummy. Hell and starvation could do that to a demon - even one that had second hand slayer blood doing a hell of a restoration job on a previously failing body. He shifted uneasily, not entirely sure how to proceed, the weight of multiple stares burning a hole right through him in a torturous manner that not even Hell could attempt to reproduce.
This really sucked.
It was abundantly clear that he was an interloper in this cozy dinner party, and he didn't like that feeling one little bit. What he wouldn't give to be sitting in Spike's chair, his arm draped casually over the back of Buffy's chair, clearly comfortable with his place in unlife and with these people. Another pained sigh escaped his lungs. How did one even start to apologize for the atrocity he had pulled the last time he saw these people?
And the continued penetrating eyeballing from the loud stranger wasn't helping his mood, either. Unable to stand it another second, Angel finally grumbled, "So, who are you again?"
"We're Buffy and Spike's friends from home," Elaine replied easily, not at all disturbed by the steely tone the question had been voiced in. This guy had hurt her friends and she wasn't prepared to offer him much slack.
"No, of course not Sunnydale. We're from Windmont. They don't live in Sunnydale anymore, Angela. I thought you knew that."
"It's Angel," the vampire corrected, his jaw clenched with irritation.
"Sorry. I knew it was a girl’s name."
Yep, no question about it. This really sucked, Angel thought, shifting uncomfortably in his chair once more as he tried to ignore the accompanying snickers. The leather seams of his tight pants kept riding up in places he'd rather they not venture and he vowed to burn every pair once he had something a whole lot more comfortable to wear.
Deciding that he liked Elaine's brand of punishment when it wasn't directed at him, Xander kept his snicker in check and posed a question, something that had been bothering him since Angel had walked through the door. "Ok, I just gotta ask, even though I think I have more than enough disturbing chain-fanging visual to last a lifetime, what exactly was the deal with that whole Chaka - Land of the Lost routine you had going on, anyway? Why are you all with the standing somewhat upright when just this morning you were all grunty and Neanderthal? "
"Oh I liked that show," Elaine commented. "I was Holly for Halloween one year."
"What the hell are you talking about now?" Rick asked, leveling his wife with a familiar appalled look.
"Land of the Lost."
"He wasn't even talking to you, Elaine."
"So?" Seeing the look on her husband's face, she sighed. "Fine, I'll keep my mouth shut."
"Yeah, that'll be the day," Rick muttered. "Please pretend like my wife never opened her mouth. Again."
All eyes turned to look at Angel expectantly, and the vampire shot Spike a lethal look. This was all Spike's fault, in some way. Just the fact that the bleached blonde was sitting there with a gaping wound in his neck was a continual testament to just how much at fault Spike was for all of this. Somehow, anyway.
"Look..." Spike paused a moment before continuing. "You lot tracked down Buffy to fix Angel. He's fixed. Doesn't really bloody matter how he got there, does it? Humpty dumpty is all put together again, yeah?"
Angel stared at his errant kin in shock. Somehow, this type of support isn’t what he had expected from Spike. He'd been expecting something more along the lines of helping to paint him in the worst possible light, blaming him for a savage attack, surely not... taking the focus off of him.
"Yes, I feel I must agree with Spike," Giles announced as he entered the room, a bowl of chili in his hands. "The how is not important at this point. What we should be focusing on is why."
"Why what?" Elaine asked, feeling like she was missing something.
"Why Hell kicked Angel's ass to the curb, is what," Spike informed her.
"You were really in Hell? What was it like?" Elaine inquired, completely disregarding her earlier promise to mind her own business.
"I don't really want to talk about it," Angel muttered, studying the table cloth. His memories of his time in Hell were too vivid and painful. The torture had been the easy part. It had been the torment of every hurtful thing he had done during his last months on earth that had been the worst part, each atrocity playing through his head over and over until he couldn't stand it anymore. Then he'd been returned, yet somehow it wasn't relief he was feeling, even though his mental torment had eased somewhat. He deserved to be rotting in Hell, not sitting around this table watching Buffy's mom serve up an apple pie.
"Well, when you are ready to talk about it, I'd love to hear all about it." Elaine reached over and gave him a patronizing pat on the hand.
Geez, just who was this woman?
"Be that as it may, it would be nice if we could focus on the matter at hand before the Council gets wind of Angel's return," Giles announced between bites of chili. "Angel, do you have any idea of why you are here?"
Actually, he did. He just didn't like it very much. Expressing another deep, pained sigh, he finally admitted, "I think I'm here to help."
"Help who, exactly?" Giles persisted.
Angel's lips twisted in a wry smile, the humor never reaching his eyes. "You."
Two months later
"So... Spike... you don't happen to own any property in the south of France that you neglected to mention, do you?" Elaine called out lazily, taking a sip of her wine spritzer - complete with umbrella - that she was currently enjoying. Making sure the tropical flower that she had tucked behind her ear was still in place, Elaine sighed languidly. She was more than enjoying this second, less spontaneous trip to California and the never-ending sunshine of Sunnydale. This was the life, as far as she was concerned, and she was determined to go home with a real tan rather than her usual winter tanning booth color. There was just something about a California vacation that put things into prospective for her, and this gorgeous sunny, private courtyard of Spike's mansion fit the bill perfectly. Of course, it sure didn't hurt that she was with her husband and best friends with a party about to commence. She loved parties. Especially parties where she could lay in the sun and just enjoy herself and not have to do anything.
Spike's eyes never left the sunbathing beauty of his Buffy who was on the chaise next to Elaine. "Even if I did, why would it matter to you, eh?"
"Oh, believe me, it matters." Elaine took another sip of her beverage and exchanged a conspiratorial wink with Buffy and Willow. "So do you?"
"No, I don't bloody well own property in soddin' France," Spike bit out. "Peaches does though."
Elaine perked up at that information. "You do?" she asked, shading her eyes to peer into the covered part of the courtyard where the other vampire sat with Spike and her hubby. "Is it nice?"
Spike and Rick grinned at each other. "That's my girl. Tacky as usual," Rick commented proudly.
"Hey! I heard that!"
"Of course, you did, dear."
The gong of the doorbell echoed loudly. "Saved by the bell, the lucky bastard," Rick remarked dryly, watching as Angel make his way inside to answer the door. "You did that on purpose, didn't you?" he asked Spike. "You know he'll never hear the end of it until he shows her pictures and says she can use it anytime she wants."
Spike's smirk was all the answer Rick needed.
Rick shook his head wryly. It had been a wild two months, that much was certain. Rick was just glad that his two best friends had accompanied them back home, rather than staying in California, because life would have been miserable for him if that had been the case. And in a weird way, he was grateful to the vampire that Elaine insisted on calling Angela for allowing Spike and Buffy to return home, - for staying in Sunnydale with Giles so Buffy didn't have to. So yeah, for that, he was willing to cut the guy some slack. Although once he'd lightened up, Angel wasn't so bad. He wasn't as much fun as Spike, but he'd definitely come a long way. Rick didn't really get the whole how and why Angel was now in the picture, and he didn't really care. The whole higher being explanation went way over his head and quite frankly, required too much thought. As long as Angel stayed in Sunnydale and helped the Council, and continued to be an ok guy, then that was good enough for him.
"Alright, this party is lacking some serious tune-age," Xander complained as he stepped out into the courtyard, his bright Hawaiian shirt clashing with his pasty skin. He skidded to a stop as his eyes fell on the bikini clad body of his best friend. "Wow."
"Doesn't she look great?" Buffy remarked proudly.
"I'll say. What happened?"
"I gave her a makeover," Elaine announced, winking at Willow, whose face was beginning to turn the color of her scarlet swimsuit at the unaccustomed male attention. "She's a hottie alright."
"Elaine!" Willow hissed, venturing beyond the mortified. Baby-steps was a very unknown concept to Buffy's friend, who surprisingly had also become one of her own. This was a constant and familiar battle as the loud blonde insisted on helping Willow achieve what she called 'her true potential.' Not that she was really complaining... much. It was kinda... empowering.
Elaine waved her hand dismissively. "Hey, get over it, girlfriend. You are a hottie and it's time you put that shy, timid crap behind you. See? Even Angela can't keep his eyes off you."
Angel had long given up trying to correct Buffy's friend, knowing that it was a purposeful slight. And that it was his cross in life to bear.
"So... when is your mom and her hot hunkie doctor stud coming over?" Elaine asked Buffy.
"Hello! He's still my boss, you know!" Buffy huffed, but more than happy with the events that had occurred over the past few months - namely her mom's happy and healthy relationship-in-progress with Dr. Adler. "Anyway, they should be here any minute. They landed a few hours ago."
"They're so cute together."
"You think everyone is cute together," Buffy laughed. "Who wants a refill?" she asked, getting to her feet.
Elaine thrust her cup in Buffy's direction. "Me!"
"And somehow, that doesn't surprise me." Buffy took Elaine's cup and headed toward the shaded section of the courtyard, not at all surprised when Spike grabbed her and hauled her against him. "I so knew you were going to do that," she murmured, giving him a quick kiss. "We're parched. Sitting in the sun is hard work, you know. Anymore of that yummy wine punch stuff?"
"Best go easy on the alcohol, luv. Can go to your head sitting in the sun the way you lot are," Spike advised, handing her the pitcher.
"Only if you're lucky," Buffy replied cheekily, giving him a saucy wink.
Several hours and multiple pitchers of alcohol later, the unlikely group sat around the large fire pit in the middle of the courtyard, the night sounds leaving them even further sated and content.
This contentment was an unfamiliar feeling for Angel, especially when associated with such innocuous events. His usual feelings of contentment had typically resulted from a good and satisfying kill... and he couldn't really think of a time when he'd felt content after being cursed with his soul. But now, being a part of this group, hearing the typical joking and ribbing, the laughter and camaraderie - it brought home exactly what a special moment this was. Angel had to admit though, that the best part was seeing the way Buffy's eyes were lit up with her own version of contentment, Spike at her side. He was partly responsible for her current happiness, both indirectly and directly, and he realized that it was a damn good feeling.
Suddenly, he felt like a giant weight had been lifted, and it dawned on him exactly why he'd been sent back. So Buffy would be happy. And even if her happiness was found with Spike and not him?
Well, he was just a little bit ok with that.
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