"She's so dead."
"Just... just why did she go and do that? How are we supposed to help her now? What...."
"Buffy!" Angel interrupted again, putting his hands on the Slayer's slim shoulders - trying to calm her down. "We're going to find her. Don't worry. Spike and I can go ask around using the sewer system and you can track her down above ground."
"How will we know where to start?"
Giles massaged the patch of tension between his eyes. "I tried to contact the Council. I know they gave Morghane the location of the next Guardian, Lisandra. I wanted to reach Wesley, but they wouldn't take my call. Didn't care about my explanations, either."
"What?" Buffy ground out between clenched teeth.
She stepped away from Angel, almost relieved for this opportunity to escape his dark penetrating gaze, and marched forcefully to the phone. "What's the number?"
"2235 245689" rattled Giles. "The international code for England is 44."
He knew better than to argue with his Slayer when she was in that particular mood. Better to let the unsuspecting Council deal with the fallout.
Buffy punched the numbers in and waited, turning away from her friends gathered once again in Angel's living room. Her body hummed with nervous energy, her nails drummed on an antique pedestal table as she waited for someone to pick up the phone on the other side of the ocean.
When she finally got an answer, she straightened, her stance rigid, her poise controlled and commanding - every inch the powerful Slayer that she was.
"Put me through to Wesley Wyndham-Price, please... Buffy Summers... yeah, the Slayer. You know many others?... What, you mean you gonna keep a Slayer from contacting a Watcher? That'll go down well in the books... What do I mean? Oh, I don't know. Let's just say a certain Watcher Diary could find its way to the motherland... yeah, yeah, it's blackmail. Hey, you catch on fast... Or I could go over there and play apprentice surgeon with your entrails... yeah, now it's a threat. Man, you're sharp... Good for you."
Spike was leaning against a wall to her right. He grinned, vastly entertained.
Buffy rolled her eyes heavenward then focused back on the voice in her ear.
"Wesley?... Yeah, delighted to hear from you too. I understand you gave Morghane the location of the new Guardian. Well, I need it too... Need-to-know? Been watching one to many James Bond, haven't you?... You're gonna tell me, Wes, not because I scare you, but because you wanna do the right thing. The Council is going to be short on Guardians soon if we don't locate Lisandra in the next few hours... Please, Wesley, I'm sure this request is not against the rules. Think about it. I may be a rogue to you, but I'm still the Slayer and I have a duty to the Guardian. I want to fulfill it, but to do that I need to know where Lisandra is... Yes, Morghane is gone. You know why..." She scolded but grabbed a pen and scribbled something on a scrap of paper. "Thank you, Wes. Sincerely... Yeah, We'll keep you updated... Bye."
She hung up the phone with a groan and a sigh.
Angel approached her, disquiet permeating his expression. "What did he say?"
"Wes didn't give Morghane an address. He gave her a phone number."
"Which can mean one of two things," acknowledged Doyle. "Either she went to that number's address, or whoever is on the other side of that phone line fixed her a rendez-vous somewhere else."
"Should be easy enough to verify."
She picked up the receiver again and dialed the number Wesley had given her.
"At least it's an L.A. area code," murmured Angel, close to her ear.
The vampire leaned against her back, his arms around her waist, enfolding her, and she tried not to tense up.
He had been seeking contact - brushing her arm, holding her hand, caressing her hair distractedly - since they had left the study. As if he needed to periodically assure himself that she was there, that he wasn't alone. That he had left the oneiric specters behind him.
His chest - the ghost wounds left by the demon's talons - had finally stopped hurting.
No one intended to call him on the unusual displays of affection. At least, none of those who had shared the dream. Doyle and Cordelia acted like nothing was amiss. Willow shot wondering glances that went unanswered at Buffy. And when Xander opened his mouth to comment, Giles, Spike and the Slayer closed ranks around Angel. Their collective stare pilloried him before he could utter one insulting word.
But Buffy had her own issues with Angel's proximity.
"Nothing," she said, dropping the receiver. "No answer."
"You think you can find the address on your machine?" asked Giles, addressing Willow.
The hacker nodded earnestly, moving towards the lift. "I'll get on it right away."
Willow had a lot riding on this now. An hour ago, Oz had disappeared somewhere between the motel and Angel's office and his van was nowhere to be found. They were working under the assumption that Oz and Morghane had met somehow and that the werewolf had proposed to drive the Guardian to her intended destination.
The young hacker didn't know what had transpired in Angel's apartment that morning, but she had been told of the possible involvement of the First and she was scared out of her mind for Oz - caught in the battle between two such powerful forces. Not to mention the fact that the weather seemed to have gone crazy on them and the streets of L.A. started to resemble Nome, Alaska in December. Definitely unfriendly.
Willow was a bit put out that Oz hadn't tried to call or left a message. He should have known that she would be deathly worried.
"I'll go with you," volunteered Xander.
No one tried to stop him.
Angel let go of Buffy to face his partner. "Whistler?"
"No good," answered Doyle. "I've gone through all the usual channels - and a few creative others - but I can't get in touch with him. I hope nothin' happened. I'm supposed to meet a... friend, in half an hour." He got up from the couch. "In fact, I'm gonna go now. I'll call you if I learn anythin'. Ye do the same."
"I'm coming," said Cordelia. "You'll need... assistance."
None of her friends even bothered to call her on that one.
Giles swiftly assessed the mood brewing between the two vampires and the Slayer.
They needed some time alone.
"I'm going upstairs. I'll call you as soon as Willow gets something."
Buffy watched Giles leave the apartment, puzzled. "Did I say something?"
Angel frowned. "I think he's just... concerned."
Vampire and Slayer raised an inquisitive eyebrow.
"You two are so dense sometimes, it's breath-taking." He shrugged under their dubious gaze. "Well, it would be if I breathed." He casually lit a cigarette. "The Watcher wanted to give you some private time to deal with your problems."
They looked at Spike as if he had grown a tail.
"What are you blabbering about?" asked Buffy, defensive.
Angel kept silent.
Spike smirked, unfazed. "Right, Slayer. You're not fooling anyone. So you get your head out of your arse right now, stop acting like a brat and start facing the truth, okay?"
"Watch it, Spike," growled the dark-haired vampire, coming out of his reserve.
The blonde disregarded his Sire's warning. "Don't get your black silk boxers in a twist, mate. She's a big girl, she can take it."
Buffy hissed. Indignation flared in her eyes. "Alzheimer finally catching up with you? 'Cos I have no idea what you're talking about."
"That's because I'm the only one with a brain cell left in this room, luv."
The Slayer smiled nastily, relishing the opportunity to fight. Finally. "And I see a full frontal lobotomy in your near future."
"Nice going for someone who thinks Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is a documentary."
"This discussion is certainly lacking something in the intelligence department, but it ain't my fault."
"Uh, yeah? Explain that one."
"I don't do charity."
Angel took a step closer to the wall.
Nice crossbow hanging there. Could come in handy if the situation degenerated further. He could always shoot one of them.
But which one?
Interestingly, it was Spike who turned out to be the voice of reason and he raised both hands in an appeasing gesture.
"Okay, I'm sorry. Time out."
Buffy froze, more dumbfounded than if he had just gone all out and hit her.
"We're all stressed here, Slayer, I didn't mean to start a fight. I just... We don't have much time and if we must work together to save Morghane you guys have to face the facts and talk." The vampire dragged a tired hand over his eyes. They had all been exhausting themselves over the last few days and tempers were running high. "You can't even look Angel in the eye. How do you reckon you can go into battle with him at your side if you can't even face him?"
Angel's brow furrowed and he looked at Buffy, inquiring.
The Slayer refused to meet his gaze.
Spike growled in exasperation. "Okay, you want me to spell it out? I will." He turned his back on the young woman to confront his Sire. "Guilt's eating her up." Buffy's head shot up as if she had been sucker-punched, but he ignored her. "Since we shared the dream... she's feeling bad 'cos she finally had to face the results of what she did to you when she sent you to Hell. It wasn't real to her 'til now."
Angel shook his head, his hauntingly sorrowful eyes searching Buffy's frozen expression. "Buffy, no. Don't... don't punish yourself. I never condemned you. Never. I only admired you more. For accomplishing your duty despite the personal cost to yourself." His voice wavered, like quicksand. "I don't blame you. I don't."
Tears streamed down Buffy's face.
"Five hundred years of..."
Each breath was another uphill battle, laced with pain.
Angel couldn't take it. With a few quick steps, he covered the short distance that separated them and swept her up tightly against his chest.
"Shh. Don't cry. Please don't cry."
She murmured haltingly, muffled by Angel's shirt, beating lightly on his shoulder with her left hand.
"You're doing it again."
"What?" he asked, confused.
"I hurt you. I hurt you more than any person ever hurt another in the entire history of civilization. And... and you're drying my tears, easing my pain..."
Angel gently lifted her chin with a long finger.
"You didn't hurt me, Buffy. I love you."
It was the only explanation he would ever need.
Incapable of words, the Slayer snaked her arms around his waist, lying her cheek on his breast - eyes closed.
Soaking up his strength.
She couldn't even begin to comprehend how he still managed to be so strong. She had no frame of reference, nowhere to start from and try to understand. She was shaking - both from delayed fear and unexpected relief. Because he did not blame her, because he still loved her. Yet her incapacity to share, to appreciate what he had been through in Hell - this unexpected, invisible distance between them - cut so deeply. Hurt so terribly.
Angel searched for his silent Childe over Buffy's blonde head.
A feeble smile graced Spike's lips.
"If you can forgive her, you can forgive yourself, you know."
The older vampire's expression clouded over and he felt Buffy stiffen against him. But she remained huddled in the shelter of his arms - not quite ready to face disturbing reality again.
Spike forged on. "The Guardian didn't leave just 'cos for a few minutes this morning you couldn't give her forgiveness and understanding. You'd just awaken from Hell, so cut yourself some slack. She was ready to leave anyway."
Angel took a ragged, unnecessary breath.
It had been a hard night.
And an even harder morning.
"I should have..."
"She knows, mate." Spike laughed hollowly. His voice was strained. "Sometimes I think she knows us all better than we know ourselves."