Angel sighed resignedly as he noticed that the office window was still tightly shut upon his return. He shook his head and resigned himself to a headache from the fumes as he entered the building. The vampire left the door swinging open, hoping to prompt Cordelia into leaving quickly, and to help clear out the stench of nail polish. "Come on Cordy, let's go," he prompted, dumping his small bag of first aid supplies on his desk. "I know you've got an audition in the morning, and you're very vocal about what happens when you don't get your beauty sleep." Expecting the usual caustic comeback, Angel frowned and turned to study his aide-de-camp in concern.

Cordelia was frowning thoughtfully over a piece of cream colored parchment, her hazel eyes staring off into space. It looked like the invitations to Willow and Oz's wedding, prompting Angel to ask with concern. "Cordelia? I thought you had decided to go to the wedding. You know, put the past behind you?"

"Humm?" Cordelia responded, eyes moving to focus on her employer. "Oh, Angel! Sorry, I didn't hear you come in." Angel frowned at his friend, moving towards her desk. His words seemed to register, finally, and Cordelia quickly continued. "Oh, this isn't the wedding invitation. I'm not quite sure what it is, but you got one too." She said cryptically, handing Angel his own neatly addressed invitation.

Since Cordelia didn't seem to be in the frame of mind to explain, Angel shrugged and opened his invitation. A frown matching Cordelia's soon crossed his face as he reread the information printed inside. "A dinner party at the Crawford St. mansion, just after the New Year, a chance for the 'Scooby Gang' to get together and meet the new slayer? Since when am I a part of that? I thought that was Xander's idea; he'd never include me voluntarily. And why is Willow sending out invitations to a party being held in Buffy's house?" Angel was thoroughly confused. He had been in occasional contact with Willow via computer since shortly after Buffy's departure, needing a way to keep tabs on the Hellmouth in Sunnydale. As a result, things were not as strained between them as they had been when he left for LA years ago, but Angel had still been surprised that he'd been invited to her wedding. And now, another invitation?

"That's what surprised you?" Cordelia asked, shocked. "I thought you would have focused on 'meet the new Slayer.' And since when is that old mansion Buffy's? Last I looked, you still owned it."

"I left most everything in Sunnydale in trust for Buffy," Angel responded absently, beginning to pace in the small space. "The house, the old apartment, and some money in trust," he explained at Cordelia's quizzical stare. "Although, until recently, she hasn't really touched much of it. I hope she's all right." Angel was soon lost down that path, knowing that Buffy didn't want to use his money as long as they weren't together, and that she only accessed the accounts in case of emergency. There had been some heavy activity in her accounts recently, and though it hardly made a dent in what he'd left for her, Angel's concern for her had grown.

"Hello?" Cordelia exclaimed, trying to keep him from getting lost in his brooding. "New Slayer? That doesn't say much for her chances."

Angel shot her annoyed look, gratified to see her grimace in apology, and hid a small smile when his vampiric hearing picked up her hissing under her breath a reminder about tact, a concept with which Cordelia still had a problem. He relented when he saw genuine concern in her brown eyes, not just for Buffy, but for him as well. "Cordy, as far as I know Buffy's fine," he soothed, running a hand through his dark hair. "I found out just tonight that the Slayer in Sunnydale was killed about two weeks ago. This must be to meet her replacement."

"Why? I mean, I never even met this one, and only saw the last one once. Besides, this kind of stressed the reunion part," Cordelia warned, waving her invitation in the air. "There's even a note from Xander that says it wouldn't be the same without 'Tact Girl,' whatever that's supposed to mean. What's going on Angel?"

Angel studied his own invitation for a moment, taking the time to analyze the feelings roiling inside him. A slip of paper slipped out from between the folds of the invitation, and Angel studied the short handwritten note before starting to explain. "I've been hearing that things are going pretty badly in Sunnydale. You've got to admit; three Slayers in two years is a pretty high death rate. And,"

Cordelia ran over his statement with one of her own. "First, duh! It *is* the Hellmouth. I know there's supposed to be one here, but I get the impression it's not all that big. I mean, Sunnydale gets a Slayer; we get a reformed vampire. Second, not every Slayer is Buffy."

"That's my point," Angel snapped impatiently, his glare warning Cordelia to not interrupt him again. "These Slayer's can't compare with Buffy, not without a lot more training and experience than they've been getting. Maybe they need help and want us to pitch in like we used to. Or..." Angel's voice trailed off for a moment as he gathered calm around him like a cloak. "Or maybe Buffy really is in trouble. You've heard the rumors; the Slayer's got a weakness. The major players are just itching to bring her down." He waved the small scrap of paper at Cordelia, adding, "Willow said that it was really important that I go. That I shouldn't let the guilt keep me away any longer." The vampire scowled when Cordelia smirked at him, one of her eyebrows raised knowingly when she heard one of her frequent arguments reiterated by the group's resident genius. He rushed to continue before he had to listen to her 'I told you so' speech. "She says that Giles will be there, and despite the tension there was between us, I really need to be there. Maybe Buffy really needs our help. I think we need to be there."

"Of course we'll be there," Cordelia said reassuringly, deciding to forgo her lecture on the evils of guilt, saving it for a better time. "You're right it must be huge if Giles is coming, and leaving Buffy alone where ever she is. But of course she can take care of herself!" she rushed on, mentally reminding herself yet again about tact when she saw the rush of concern on Angel's face. "I'm sure Giles will only come for a day, maybe two. And we'll figure it all out, maybe put some of the past behind us while we're there," Cordelia mused, silently plotting how to make Angel see that he'd more than made up for the past.

Angel allowed himself to smile wryly at the thought. "Yeah, maybe," he whispered, staring out the window. He shook himself out of his worries and prompted Cordelia to gather her things, holding the door for her as they left, allowing himself to take refuge in the familiar task of escorting the brunette beauty home safely. Still, a corner of his mind was occupied with turning over this new piece to the puzzle, trying to determine what was going on. Because the one thought he hadn't voiced, as if afraid saying it aloud would jinx it, was that maybe this really would be a reunion. Maybe Buffy was ready to come home. The thought opened so many possibilities in Angel's heart. No matter his denials to the contrary when faced with Cordy and Whistler's lectures, Angel was getting tired of being miserable. He wanted so badly to believe that he had paid for his sins, and wasn't responsible for the actions of the demon. He wanted to go home, to be with Buffy, to be happy again. Angel quickly brought himself up short, harshly reminding himself of what had happened the last time he'd been happy. The vampire forced the longing for home and his love away with the ease of long practice. Still, in a small, rarely used place in his soul, a spark flickered back to life, after nearly five years of faltering. A spark of hope.



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