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The Meaning of Heroes
Book One: Chapter Sixteen (10,250 words) 
15th-Jul-2006 02:44 pm
wes/fred/giles OT3!, heroes

Giles opened his eyes, looking at the clock by the bed. 4:30 a.m. – too bloody early. But he supposed they could start Wesley’s training regimine that day. Besides, he had a few things he wanted to discuss with the younger man.

Reaching over Fred, he shook Wesley. “Wake up, we’re going for a run,” he whispered when the familiar blue eyes opened and looked at him.

*****

The phone was ringing.

Down in the living room, Dawn turned over where she was sleeping on the floor next to Connor and looked over at the clock on the DVD player. Who in the hell was calling at 6 a.m.? Groaning and realizing that Buffy was deciding to ignore the phone, she pulled herself up and went into the kitchen to answer. By the time she got there, though, the answering machine had picked up, and she caught the tail end of Willow...sounding freaked out.

“—it sounded bad, Giles. Call us as soon as you get this, please. We...oh, god, just call. Please. We’ll call back in fifteen minutes if we haven’t heard from you.”

Dawn grabbed the phone, but all she got was the dial tone. Willow had already hung up. Putting the phone back on the hook, she ran for the stairs. “GILES!!!”

The sound of Dawn screaming brought Fred immediately awake, and she practically jumped out of bed, grabbing the closest thing to hand, which happened to be Wesley’s shirt. She put it on and quickly buttoned it before grabbing her discarded jeans off the floor and slipping them on.

Dawn was just reaching the door when she opened it, a worried look on her face. “Rupert and Wes went for a run,” she told her. “What’s wrong? Is Connor okay?”

“Willow just called left a message on the machine,” Dawn said as Buffy and Connor, who had been woken up by her yelling and tearing through the living room, came hurrying up the stairs, the little boy in Buffy’s arms. “Something about something bad and needing us to call them as soon as we can.”

*****

Giles and Wesley were racing each other back to the house, the older man outdistancing the younger by at least twenty steps. Rushing up the stairs, Giles threw open the door, heading in with Wes hot on his heels. “I thought you young pups were supposed to be in better shape,” he laughed, his hands on his knees, trying to catch his breath.

“I am.” Wesley glared at his lover. “You cheated, and you know it. Grabbing a man there is bound to distract him,” he growled, bracing his hands at his back, leaning to stretch his tired body.

*****

Fred’s eyes opened wide at what Dawn had just said, and when she heard the front door open, she hurried past her and Buffy, running down to the entrance foyer where Wesley and Rupert now stood, stretching out. “We need to call Willow and Tara,” she told them. “Dawn said they left a message on the machine.”

“Willow sounded really freaked out,” Dawn added as she came down the stairs behind her.

“What?!” Giles asked as he and Wesley looked at each other, worry clear on both their faces at the mention of trouble with Willow and Tara. Especially considering their last discussion with Willow. Giles moved to the phone, picking up the reciever and dialing Willow’s cell. He cursed under his breath, waiting for the redhead to answer.

*****

Willow and Tara were standing in the living room in Giles’ apartment, staring down at the answering machine as if hoping they could change what they had heard when Willow’s phone began ringing. Pulling it out of her pocket, she saw the number on the ID screen and flipped it open with shaking hands. “Giles? Oh Goddess, Giles, we were out last night and just got home a little bit again and saw the answering machine blinking. Since we thought it might have been you, we listened to the message, and...I think she’s dead. He said he killed her, and I think he did!”

“Wait! Willow! Slow down! Who do you think is dead? And who is supposed to have killed her?” he asked firmly. Unable to make sense of what she was saying, he tried to get her to focus.

Wesley’s face paled as he listened to Giles’ side of the conversation, his mind immediately going toward Lorne in Los Angeles. He felt his stomach knot up, thinking that if anything happened to him, it would be their fault for leaving him there alone when they knew trouble was coming.

“Cordelia,” Willow choked out, tears that she had managed to keep at bay finally coming to her eyes. Tara wrapped her arm around her, rubbing her back and pressing her forehead to hers to give her strength. “It’s...you guys were right, Angelus is back, and...we heard him. We heard the crack, and then he said she was dead. And he’s coming after you guys.”

Fred strained to hear what Willow was saying on the other end, only picking up a few muffled words. “Did she say Cordelia?” she whispered, feeling as though she had been punched in the chest.

Giles felt the color drain from his own face, as he sank down into the nearby chair. He nodded weakly in answer to Fred’s whispered question. “Willow, I need to hear that message. I have to know what we’re dealing with. And I think Wesley and Fred have to know.” Looking up at Dawn, he choked back his own emotions. “Dawn, I need you to get the cordless from your sister’s room so that they can listen in,” he instructed the youngest Summers, knowing that for good or bad, they would want to know.

Dawn ran upstairs and get the cordless phone from Buffy’s room, immediately bringing it back down and handing it to Wesley, who turned it on and held it so both he and Fred could listen. When Giles told her they were ready, Willow immediately hit the play button on the machine and held her phone to the speaker so it would be picked up, closing her eyes as Cordelia’s voice – obviously scared and nervous rang out in the otherwise silent room.

“Giles, it’s Cordelia. Oh, God, I’m so sorry. I should have listened to you. You were right – those damn lawyers, they—oh, God, Angel, he’s...” There was some noise in the background and what sounded like someone saying her name, followed what could only be pounding on a door. “He’s here, Giles. Angelus is here. Oh, God...Wesley, I’m so sorry. I should have realized. I should have made him understand.”

Swallowing, Fred looked up at Wesley, tears forming in her eyes as she grabbed his hand, not sure that she wanted to hear this.

Giles, meanwhile, didn’t realize his hand had clenched into fists. He had been angry in Los Angeles, believing the girl was behaving like a hypocrite. But having been on the receiving end of Angelus’ wrath, he didn’t wish this on her.

Wesley could feel his own tears threatening, feeling Fred tensing up next to him. Standing up, he brought the phone away from Fred’s ear, not wanting her to hear the worst of it. His sister was dead, by the hands of their best friend.

Fred knew that Wesley was trying to protect her, but from both his and Rupert’s reactions, she could tell exactly what was going on and could still hear a few words and sounds filtering through. She bit her lip and looked up at the ceiling. This wasn’t happening. This couldn’t be happening. First Charles, now Cordy. Oh God, why was this happening to them?

“You can protect them all you want, Giles. When I’m done with her, I’m coming to get all of you. You can tell Wesley that – I’m going to kill him for what he’s done. I’m going to kill Fred in front of him, and then you, and then him.”

“You’ll never get close enough.”

“You won’t be around to find out.”
A loud snap and then a thump echoed down the phone line. “She’s dead, Giles. And you three are next.”

With that the line went dead with a loud crunch, and the machine clicked off. Shaking, Willow raised her phone back to her ear. “That’s...that’s...the end of the message.”

“Do not go anywhere at night without myself or Buffy with you. I think it’s safe to assume he’s on his way,” Giles instructed Willow. “I have to go, Willow, I’ll either call you later or have Xander pick you both up on his way over.” He hung up the phone, sad green eyes meeting blue and brown. “That’s it – he’s done something irreversable. We have to put him down; resouling isn’t an option anymore.”

“Mommy, what happened?” Connor asked from where Buffy stood, holding him. He wriggled out of her arms and went over to his mother.

“Something—something very bad,” Fred whispered as she picked him up, holding him close to her and closing her eyes.

“Angelus...he killed Cordelia?” Buffy asked softly, her hands clenching into fists at her sides. When Giles nodded, she felt as though her insides had been ripped out. “And he’s coming after us now.”

Wesley shook his head numbly. “He’s coming for Fred and I, he said as much. He wants Rupert too for saving us from his wrath in Los Angeles.” He looked up at his lover, still trying to come to terms with the fact that he had just heard his surrogate sister die. “I don’t want to put your family at risk either, Buffy. Perhaps we should just run,” he whispered, not even realizing what he was saying. He just didn’t wan’t anyone else to die because of him.

“Don’t you dare,” Buffy told him. “If you leave, you’re going to be even more unprotected than you will be staying here. At least here we can protect each other.”

Fred turned to Wesley, Connor still in her arms. “She’s right. If we run, he’s just going to come after us, no matter where we go, and that’s what he wants us to do so he can track us down like prey. At least here, with everyone around us, we have a fighting chance. If we go on the run, he wins.”

“I....I just don’t want anyone else to die because of me. Cordelia shouldn’t have had to die. We should have forced her to come with us,” he whispered, his voice almost desperate. Pulling out his cell, he frowned. “Lorne. Someone has to call Lorne!”

Giles took the phone from his lover’s hand. “I’ll call Lorne. You’re not ready to have this conversation. I’ll have him stop by her flat and bring Cordelia home.” He was almost rather relieved that Angelus didn’t consider the demon a threat. “Besides, you heard Angelus – he’s coming here, so Lorne is in no danger.”

“He’s right. Lorne will be all right.” Fred had known that Angelus coming would happen sooner or later, but she hadn’t expected it to happen like this. Not at Cordy’s expense. She had hoped that she would have heard her message earlier and gotten out there, but she hadn’t, and they had left her, and now she was dead.

“We have some time to make sure we’re protected,” Buffy said. “He can’t travel during the day. We can get Willow to—.” She stopped herself, remembering what Wesley had said the other night about Willow and her magic. “We can make sure an uninvite spell is in place on the house, and we won’t let him get the drop on any of us. Not this time. No one dies this time. I won’t let it happen.”

“I can do the uninvite spell here. It’s already been done at my flat,” Giles stated before repeating what he had said earlier but directing it at his Slayer this time. He had to know that she understood. “Buffy, he’s killed Cordelia, so resouling is not an option. We have to put him down.” He knew Wes and Fred would agree. Angel would never recover knowing he had killed someone so dear.

“I know.” She hated to admit it, but she knew they were right. Angel had told her how important Cordelia had become to him the last time they had spoken, and she had heard the pride and adoration in his voice. He had hated himself for killing Jenny – this would be even worse.

“Buffy?” Dawn asked, laying her hand on her sister’s arm.

“I know,” she repeated, tears in her eyes. “Angel would be the first one to tell me to do it, to stop him before he hurt anyone else. And I’m not going to run away. Not this time.”

Giles nodded, opening Wesley’s cell and scrolling down to Lorne’s number. Pushing call, he put the device up to his ear, waiting for the demon to pick up.

*****

Lorne had just gotten onto the freeway, heading for Sunnydale with Wesley’s belongings, when his cell phone rang. With one hand on the steering wheel, he reached into his jacket pocket with other and pulled it out, seeing Wesley’s number on the screen. With a flick of his finger, he flipped it open. “Hey, Scruffy Bear, I’m on my way to Sunnydale. Should be there in a few hours.”

“Lorne, it’s Rupert. Pull over to the side of the road. Just do it – we need you to go back to LA for something.” He waited until he heard the engine cut off. “We just got a call at my flat...from Angelus. Cordelia is dead.” He gave a shaky breath, hating the pain he saw in his lover’s eyes. “We need you to go back to LA and bring her home.”

The news hit Lorne like a ton of bricks, and he was suddenly very glad that Giles had made him pull over to the side of the road. His mouth went dry as he tried to process what he had just been told. “She’s—wh—when?”

“My guess, not long. A few hours at most. She deserves to be buried at home, surrounded by family,” Giles told the demon. “Fred and Wesley also mentioned that she has a ghost living with her. Tell him that once we settle things with Angelus, we will come to collect him. Like Cordelia, he should be with those that care.”

Blinking back tears, he nodded even though the man on the other end couldn’t see him. Cordelia. Dead. It didn’t seem possible or fair or right. “I’m not that far outside LA. I’ll go back now and get...her,” he told Giles. “Tell Wesley and Fred...tell them I’ll be there as soon as I can this evening.”

“I will, Lorne. Just watch yourself. You should have a window of a few hours. He’s on his way here,” he explained. “I’m sorry to be the bearer of such bad news, but I didn’t want Wesley or Fred to have to make this call. We’ll see you tonight.”

“I know. Thanks, Giles. I’ll see you when I get there. Give Wesley and Fred and Connor my love.”

Hanging up the call, Lorne sat there for a few moments, his head buried in his hands as he tried to pull himself together. He just wanted to break down and cry, but he knew that he couldn’t – he didn’t have the time. Forcing his feelings down for the time being, he started the SUV back up again, checked to make sure no one was coming in the right lane and pulled out, getting off at the next exit to head to Cordelia’s.

*****

Giles hung up the phone, moving to sit next to Wesley. Draping his arm around the younger man’s shoulder, he hugged him tight. “He’s going back for her,” he told everyone. “I know it’s dangerous, but we’ll have to bury her tonight. If we try and do it during the day, there will be too many questions. Buffy, myself and Spike will stand guard, watching for Angelus. Dawn, we’ll need you to stay here with Connor.”

The teenager nodded, knowing that if Giles did the uninvite spell, as long as she and Connor were in the house, they’d be safe. She remembered – at least she had been given the memories – of what had happened with Angelus the last time. There was no way she was going to go out if there was a chance that he was around.

Fred sat on the couch next to Wesley, Connor cuddled up her lap and holding on to her tightly, his hand tangled in her hair. “I can’t believe she’s gone,” she whispered.

Wesley finally allowed his tears to come, and Giles turned him, drawing him into a desperate hug, holding him as he cried. He met Buffy’s gaze, still stroking Wesley’s hair. They both knew their family was in for a dark trial.

*****

Lorne reached Cordelia’s building about a half an hour after he had gotten the call. Taking a deep breath, he got out of the car and hurried up to her apartment, where he found the front door closed but obviously somewhat off its hinges. The doorknob turned when he twisted it, and slowly, he walked inside.

As soon as he entered, a vase came hurtling toward him, and he barely had time to duck before it hit the doorframe, shattering and crashing to the floor. Another object came flying through the air a moment later, this time a book he wasn’t able to dodge.

“Dennis! Dennis, stop!” he yelled. “It’s me. It’s Lorne! I’m not here to hurt you! I...I heard about Cordelia. I’m here to—I’m here to take her home.”

A picture that had been floating in the air suddenly dropped to the floor, and Lorne could feel the grief practically permeating the air.

“I know. I loved her too. But we’re going to get Angelus for doing this to her. Where is she?”

The bedroom door swung open, and Lorne gasped softly when he saw Cordelia’s body lying face down on the floor. Hurrying into the room, he pulled her into his arms and turned her over, a sob catching in his throat.

“Oh, sweetheart,” he murmured, stroking her hair back from her face. “This wasn’t supposed to happen. Not like this.”

He felt what seemed to be a hand on his shoulder, shaking as though its owner was crying.

“I’m going to take her back to Sunnydale – the others are waiting there so we can bury her. Once we’ve taken care of Angelus, we’ll come back and get you, untie you from this apartment so you can come back with us. We’re not going to leave you here by yourself, I promise.”

He felt a squeeze, and then the phantom hand disappeared. Lorne looked down at Cordelia one last time before leaning her up against himself and draping her arm over his shoulder to make it look like she was just sleeping. Then he rose from the floor and headed toward the apartment door to take her back home to Sunnydale.

*****

Giles stood, drawing Wesley up with him. “Fred, why don’t you take Wes up and get him in the shower. I’ll come up in a minute.” He lifted Connor from her arms, smiling faintly when the boy’s nose wrinkled. “Yes, Connor, I know I stink, but your daddy needs your mum to take care of him right now. Can you be a big boy and let Dawn get your dressed?” He placed a hand on the boy’s hair when he nodded. “That’s a good lad.”

Still feeling a bit numb, Fred stood up and took Wesley’s hand in hers, leading him upstairs to the master bedroom and closing the door. They went into the bathroom, where she quickly locked the door to the hallway so no one could get in that way, then she started helping Wesley out of his running clothes, starting to pull his t-shirt up and biting her lip to try to keep from crying. When she looked up at him, however, her resolve suddenly crumbled and she wrapped her arms around him, holding him tightly.

*****

“Go with Dawn, Connor.” Giles passed the boy over after Wesley and Fred had disappeared. Once they had headed upstairs, he touched his Slayer’s shoulder. “Buffy? Are you all right?”

Buffy shrugged, staring down at the slightly worn living room carpet. “He was my first love, Giles. Angel was. Killing him was one of the hardest things I ever had to do.” She looked up at him. “But he was Angel when I did that. He had gotten his soul back. This time...Angel’s gone now. This is Angelus, and I’m not going to let him do to you what he did last time. Not when you’re happy again. I promise, I won’t.”

Giles drew her into his arms gently, holding her. “I know this is hard for you, Buffy. Especially in light of what has happened to you. If you’re not ready, no one would fault you for staying out of it. I’ll handle it if you’re not ready.” He would too. He wouldn’t destroy his Slayer, just to save his own hide.

Closing her eyes for a moment, Buffy thought about everything that had happened to her recently and how Giles, Wesley, Fred and Connor being there had been like a lifeline for her. She had loved Angel, but she knew he was gone, from the moment he had murdered Cordelia. And now Giles – the man who had been family to her for so long – was in danger. “I’ll be ready. I don’t want to lose you. And you can’t lose Wesley or Fred.”

“But if you feel as if you can’t do this, through any of it,” Giles told her, “no one will fault you for stepping back. You and I both know this family is resilient when they put their minds to it.” He smiled faintly. “I just don’t want to put you in this spot. No matter what happens, you are in for some unnecessary pain. I would give anything to spare you that.”

She shook her head, not willing to step aside in this, not with so much at stake. “It has to be done. And I would be in so much more pain if I were to lose you. I love you, Giles. You’ve...you’ve helped me and mean more to me than I can ever say.”

“I love you too, you trying girl,” he teased. “You have been the center of my universe for so long. I wish I could protect you from this, but I am afraid I need your help. It will be up to us to protect everyone we love.”

She nodded. “It’s what I do best. And we’ve faced worse before, haven’t we? We’ve always come through somehow.” Giving him another hug, she then pulled away slightly, but not completely, and pointed to the stairs. “We should probably check on the others and call Xander to get over here with Willow, Tara and Anya.” She knew seeing Willow was going to be a bit difficult, but she was still her best friend, and this outweighed everything else.

Giles looked up when he saw Dawn coming down with Connor. He held out his hands, smiling when the little boy automatically came to him. “Thank you for being so understanding, Connor. I need you to be a good boy for a little while longer. Dawn will make you some breakfast since I need to go take care of your mum and dad for now,” he explained, expecting another question when bright, worried blue eyes looked up at him.

Connor locked eyes with the man that had come to mean so much to him. “Giles? What’s wrong? Mommy and Daddy looked so sad,” he asked, touching his forehead.

“Someone I knew, and Buffy and the others knew...” He paused, not exactly sure how to tell him. “She was close to your mum and dad, almost like a sister. A bad man killed her. That’s why everyone is sad.”

Connor’s eyes grew wide at this. “Holes told me I had a sister, and a bad man killed her too,” he whispered. It was probably another lie, but he remembered how bad he had felt, how Holes’ eyes had teared up the way Giles’ did now. He didn’t like the idea that his mommy and daddy felt that way now.

“The bad man that killed the little girl is the same man that killed your mum and dad’s good friend. The girl was not your sister, but she was Holtz’s daughter,” Giles explained to the wise little boy.

“Go take care of them. I’ll be right here. If you need me.”

He smiled sadly, touched by the boy’s concern for his parents. “We will always need you, Connor, but thank you for understanding,” he said, placing his hand on Connor’s head gently.

“Come here, Connor,” Dawn said, reaching out and taking the little boy from Giles. “Let’s get you something to eat.”

As her sister went into the kitchen, Buffy pointed the stairs. “Go see to them. I’ll call Xander and tell him what happened. He should...I should probably tell him, given what—given that he and Cordy used to be...he should hear it from me.”

Giles nodded, agreeing with Buffy. She should be the one to tell Xander. Turning, he made his way up the stairs, stopping at the bathroom door when he heard crying within.

*****

Inside, Fred continued holding tightly to Wes, rubbing his back as both of them cried. Cordy had been her friend, but she had only known her for about a year. Wesley had known her for far longer. If this hurt so much for her, she could only imagine what he was going through, and she didn’t know what to say. She couldn’t say anything. Cordy was gone, and Angel was well and truly lost to them.

Giles entered the bathroom silently, locking the door behind him. His heart hurt to see his lovers there crying, Wesley hit the hardest. Standing behind him, he wrapped his arms around them both. Lowering his head, he rested his forehead on the back of Wes’ skull.

Feeling Giles’ arms embrace them, she looked up at both of her guys. Angelus had killed Cordy, and he was coming for all them now. But she refused to let them be taken from her. They had found each other – she couldn’t lose them. She couldn’t. “We’re not going to let him win,” she finally whispered, her voice choked from the tears. “She wouldn’t want us to.”

“I should have done more, I should have insisted...” Wesley began but stopped when he felt fingers over his lips.

“Wes, you almost died. You were flat on your back with your throat cut, and the second you were healthy, we were retrieving Connor. What more could you have done. We all knew Cordy, what do you think she would have said to your ‘insisting’?” Giles asked.

“She was probably the most stubborn person I’ve ever met,” Fred added. “We did what we could. We tried to tell them. I just wish she had gotten my message sooner. I wish...” She shook her head and closed her eyes, suddenly wondering if she could have done anything different with the message she had left. Maybe she should have called the hotel, the possibility of Angel answering be damned. A small shudder ran through her body as she rested her head against Wesley’s chest.

Giles could feel the moisture filling his own eyes. Cordelia had been a pain, but he knew she had a good heart despite her protests. “We have to stop this. Angelus has us right where he wants us – so rattled that we can barely function. You know Cordelia, if we let this get us killed, she’ll be the first one in heaven waiting for us to kick our arses.” He laughed, but there was nothing happy about the sound. “We could have called sooner. You could have insisted. Perhaps if I hadn’t been so hard on her, she might have been more receptive. We can go round and round forever about this, but Cordelia wouldn’t want that. She would want us to put aside our grief until Angelus is dealt with. Then...knowing her, she’ll expect a shrine.”

“With lots and lots of tributes, preferably of the jewel variety.” Fred took a deep breath and shifted her head so her ear was pressed against Wesley, listening to his heartbeat and the soft shudders of his body as he continued to cry. Moving her arm to wrap around Rupert as well, she tightened her hold on both of them. “He’s right, though. We have to stop Angelus.” She raised her head. “I don’t want to lose either of you – I love you both too much. I won’t let him take either of you away from me.”

“Hear that?” Giles said softly, his hand moving over Wesley’s hair. “We have our very own protector. A state of the art, completely original, top of the line Fred.” He smiled sadly at the woman in question.

“My hero,” Wesley gave a soggy chuckle, lifting his arms as he felt Giles stripping off his tee.

“Come on, Wes; we need to shower. You know the only reason Fred hasn’t complained about us blowing out her sense of smell is because she loves us.” He took a knee in front of his lover and lowered his shorts.

Raising her eyebrows, Fred shook her head and reached into the shower to turn on the water. “Smell wasn’t exactly at the top of my thoughts, you know,” she told him. After checking that the water was getting up to the right temperature, she helped Rupert out of his shirt and shorts. “Okay, into the shower, both of you.”

Giles helped Wes into the shower. Once they were under the spray, he grabbed the shampoo and began washing the other’s man dark hair. “This can’t change our plans,” he said softly. “So don’t you have something to tell Fred?”

“Rupert is going to call the Sunnydale Museum. With Buffy back, he doesn’t have the time to dedicate to them anymore, so he’s going to recommend me as his replacement. And I have the credentials to back up his recommendation. It’s not full time, but at least it would help to start bringing in some money,” Wes explained, closing his eyes when Giles told him too.

“Both of you can work at the Magic Box until you find something more permanent. Wes said you probably wouldn’t go for teaching,” Giles said as he rinsed Wesley’s hair, “but this is a college town. You could probably make extra money as a math and physics tutor.”

Fred nodded, thinking that the museum position would be perfect for someone with Wesley’s knowledge in both languages and artifacts. Leaning down, she opened the cabinet and pulled out several extra towels, placing them on the countertop for when the boys were through with their shower. “I’d have to go back to school to get a teaching certification or to finish my Ph.D if I wanted teach at a college, and given everything going on, that’s sort of out at the moment, so tutoring would be perfect. Does the Magic Box have enough room for me to work with students?”

“Absolutely,” Giles replied, starting to wash his own body. “The kids used to bring their homework there, and we constantly do our research there when the new nasty is in town. It actually might not be a bad place to arrange as headquarters against Angelus since most of my books are there as are the bulk of our weapons and our spell components. There’s a massive amount of floor space, storage in the basement, a training room, space enough for some of the nastier spell books upstairs, and a sizable flat on the second floor that I’m using for storage at the moment,” he explained before taking a breath to duck his own head under the shower to wash his own hair.

“Sounds perfect then,” Fred said, walking back over and leaning up against the wall. She thought about the times she had worked one-on-one with other students when she had been TAing at UCLA and how much she liked that more that running the lab sections.

It seemed a bit strange to be thinking of their future plans with everything that had been happening, but Rupert was right that couldn’t let it affect their lives. Putting that on hold and not thinking about it would be like giving up, which be letting Angelus win.

“Would I go through the university itself or put an advertisement up somewhere?”

“Well,” Giles said as he and Wes finished, and he reached past his lover to turn off the taps. “The Magic Box gets a lot of business from the college whether it be from the Wicca groups or just someone looking for an unusual gift. You could start by posting a notice there, and once you get a few students, possibly have Willow and Tara post a notice on the campus boards. Once you develop a reputation as the brilliant tutor I know you can be, we can approach the professors themselves about assigning you students through the university payroll.”

Smiling, Fred nodded, liking that idea. Maybe she could even go back to school at some point once things had settled down, but for right now, she wanted to concentrate on getting settled here.

*****

Downstairs, Buffy watched for a few moments while Dawn made some breakfast for Connor – which pretty much consisted of getting some cereal out and pouring it into a bowl for him. Knowing her sister’s culinary skills, however, this was probably the safest course.

Her attention then wondered over to the phone, reminding her what she still needed to do. With a small sigh, she walked over and grabbed the receiver from the base, taking it out into the other room, not really wanting either Dawn or Connor to overhear this. They knew what had happened, but she still wanted to have privacy – she sort of felt she owed it to both Xander and Cordy.

Punching in her friend’s number – and praying that it hadn’t changed in the time she had been gone – she sat down in one of the chairs in the living room and waited for him to pick up.

*****

Xander was gathering up the rest of his tools, getting ready to head over to Buffy’s. He had had to wait until Anya left for work, knowing that if she knew where he was going, she would continue to bug him about Wesley. He looked at the phone when it rang, rushing to pick it up as he pocketed his keys.

“Hello?”

“Xander, it’s me...Buffy.” She rolled her eyes at herself a little bit, knowing that he’d probably have recognized her voice. “Uh...Xander, I have some—I mean...there’s something I need to tell you and...whatever you’re doing, you’d better sit down.”

“Oooookay,” Xander said slowly, actually following her suggestion. “This sounds bad. Is this someone peed in your cheerios bad or Wes tripped with a sword and skewered Giles bad?”

“Ummm...worse,” she whispered, swallowing the lump in her throat. “Xander, there’s no easy way to say this, but...Angel—Angelus...he’s back already...and he...he murdered Cordy last night.”

Xander gasped, feeling like he got kicked in the chest by a mule. “What? Wh—oh my God,” he managed, rubbing a hand over his face as if he were trying to wipe away the shock. “How...how do you know?” he asked weakly, hoping the source was faulty.

Closing her eyes for a moment, she remembered the looks on Giles’, Wesley’s and Fred’s face as they listened in on the phone call from Willow. “She—they—Cordy had just called Giles’ place when Angelus attacked her. The answering machine recorded everything.”

“No more,” Xander said, his voice dark. “I’m done losing people to dead boy. I know you have a past with him, but he’s hurt this family enough. Screw resouling; he’s dust.”

“I know,” Buffy replied softly. Then she raised her voice a bit. “Xander, I know. I’ve already talked to Giles about this. He’s coming here after us, but we’re not giving him a second chance. We’re going to—we’re not going to let him hurt us. I won’t let him hurt us. Angel’s gone.”

“Buffy, I know you think you mean what you say, and I’m sorry, but I’ll believe it when I see it.” He frowned, thinking about what she had said. “So Giles was right? He’s after Wes and Fred and little Connor?”

“And Giles. That’s why I’m not going to let him hurt them. He hurt him before – he took Jenny away from him. I’m not going to let him take Wesley and Fred away from him too. It ends now,” she said firmly. “But we don’t want you guys in danger either. Can you go over and get Willow and Tara and bring them and Anya over here? It’d be safer if we were together. Lorne – Wesley and Fred’s friend – is bringing Cordy’s body here, so we can bury her. He should be here later today.”

“I know my girl – Angelus or no Angelus, she won’t close up early.” He sighed and thought for a moment. “I’ll go pick up Willow and Tara, and we’ll hang out at the Magic Box ‘til closing. Then we’ll come over,” he suggested, knowing there wasn’t a chance in hell he would miss Cordy’s funeral

Buffy let out a small puff of air – Giles wasn’t going to like it, but she knew that Xander was right. The world would have to be ending for Anya to close the shop and give up the chance of making money, and even then, the chances she would actually do that were slim. “All right, but make sure you guys get out of there and over here before sunset, okay?” She actually almost wished that she could go tell Spike to get over there as well, considering he had experience dealing with Angelus. “Be careful.”

“I will,” Xander promised, already mentally going over a plan of action. This time, dead boy was toast, and no one was going to stop him. He already got Cordy; he wasn’t getting Giles. “Look, Buff, I gotta go . I want to get over to pick up Willow and Tara since they’re probably pretty shaken up about the call.”

She nodded even though he couldn’t see him. “We’ll see you over here later. Call if you need us for anything. Bye, Xand.” Ending the call, Buffy sat there for a minute, tapping the phone against her lips. She wished it hadn’t needed to come to this, but there was no choice this time.

“Hey, Buffy, you want something to eat?” Dawn asked, standing at the entrance to the kitchen, holding a bowl.

“Yeah...that would probably be a good idea.” Getting up from the chair, she went into the kitchen with her sister. Definitely, no choice. Not when it came to her family now.

*****

Xander pulled up in Buffy’s driveway, and after making sure he had the tape in his pocket, he reached down next to the driver’s seat, gripping his stake.

“Everybody ready?” He scowled when he saw Anya, her arms still folded across her chest. “Ahn, enough, okay? We talked about this. Until Angelus is taken care of, you have to close in time enough to get home for sundown. Now, come on, let’s go,” he said, getting out and waiting for all the girls to get out of the car. He escorted everyone up on the porch, where Tara reached out and knocked on the door.

Fred had been cleaning up the living room where Giles had done the uninvite spell when she heard the knock. Looking out the living room window, she saw Buffy’s friends standing on the porch, all of them appearing a bit apprehensive, the way they were huddled together, checking over their shoulders even though the sun hadn’t gone down yet. Hurrying over to the door, she opened the door, ushering everyone inside before closing and locking it again. Buffy came down the stairs just then, stopping on the bottom-most step, unsure what to do for a moment.

“You guys okay?” she finally asked.

“As well as can be expected,” Tara replied, softly, still supporting a clearly shaken Willow, who she helped over to the couch. “But we’re safe.”

“Yeah, dead boy is a no show so far,” Xander growled, still tense, knowing that no matter what they planned, it wouldn’t go smoothly. “Any sign of this Lorne guy. I wonder if Spike is going to come out of hiding since Connor dented his manhood.”

“Lorne called a little while ago. He was about an hour outside Sunnydale, so he should be here in a bit,” Fred said, glancing out the window again, wishing that he would hurry up, so she would know that he was there safe. She didn’t think she could take losing another friend now after losing Charles and Cordelia.

“Who knows with Spike, though,” Buffy answered. She knew that having him around might actually be a good thing, considering his experience with Angelus, but then again, could Angelus end up being a bad influence? She remembered what Dru’s presence had done. Looking over at Willow, she wanted to say something to her friend, but wasn’t sure what – or even if this was the right place.

“Tara, Willow!” Dawn said, coming up from the basement and hurrying over to the two women who had taken care of her over the last ten months to give them hugs.

Tara smiled warmly, truly having missed the young girl. “Hi, Dawn,” she said as she hugged her. Looking around the living room, she noticed a few subtle differences, but the most noticeable change – at least to her – was in the aura. Even Buffy’s looked different. And every person now living in this house shared an almost golden quality, six people that had sparkling threads entwined in their auras. They were becoming a family.

Willow looked around the living room after hugging Dawn. She noticed the Playstation hooked up to the TV and sleeping rolls folded up in the corner. “Looks like you guys made some changes,” she said, more as an observation than anything.

“We had a sleepover down here last night,” Dawn told them as she sat down next to Tara. “And we had a huge shopping trip yesterday.”

“But now we have...other things to worry about,” Buffy said, knowing her sister wasn’t trying to sound uncaring. “Angelus is coming here – he wants Wesley, Fred and Giles. Once we...once we bury Cordelia, we have to figure out what we’re going to do to protect ourselves.”

“Buffy,” Giles called his Slayer, his voice gentle. “You and I, along with Spike, will set up a triagular paremeter around the grave. We’ll stand guard, give the others a chance to say goodbye.” He looked at Dawn. “You’ll stay here with Connor. Xander, you, Lorne and Wesley will have to dig the grave.”

Xander nodded in agreement just as a car appeared in the driveway, its headlights on. Dawn turned on the couch and looked out through the curtains. “An SUV just pulled up outside.”

“That sounds like Wesley’s car,” Fred said, crossing back over to look over Dawn out the window. When she saw the driver getting out of the car, she felt her heart drop. “Lorne’s here.”

Giles tossed Wes a crossbow and pulled his own Katana out of the weapons chest. “Xander, help him with Cordelia; we’ll cover you,” he instructed, allowing Xander to proceed them out the door.

Lorne had just circled around to the passenger side when the front door opened and a dark-haired young man came out, followed by Giles and Wesley, both of whom were wielding weapons. This caused him to look around in concern – the sun was disappearing in the distance, dimness starting to blanket the street. Hopefully, Angelus hadn’t gotten here yet.

“I’m Xander,” the young man said as he joined Lorne next to the SUV. “I’m a...friend of Cordy’s. Is she...?”

Lorne nodded. “She’s in the backseat. I wish...I wish the circumstances of our acquaintance were better, kid.”

“Me, too.”

Xander and Lorne quickly got Cordelia’s body out of the car and took her up to the house. Looking at his friends as they approached, Lorne shook his head sadly, his heart heavy.

“I’m sorry, Wes,” he whispered.

“You brought her home,” Wesley replied, his voice thick with emotion. “You have nothing to be sorry for.” His eyes scanning the horizon, he waited until Xander and Lorne made it in through the front door before he started backing toward the porch, instinctively knowing that Rupert had his back. Once he entered the house, Giles did a final check and followed, closing the door behind him.

“Lorne,” Fred cried softly, hurrying over to them, her throat tightening at the sight of Cordelia so pale and colorless in their arms.

“Hi, Blossom. I—I’m glad you guys are okay. Wish that...”

“I know.” She touched his shoulder gently then pointed upstairs. “Why don’t you take her up there. I’ll...I’ll clean her up before we take her to the gravesite.” She didn’t want their friend buried in her current state – she deserved better than that.

“Take her up to the bathroom and lay her in the bathtub,” Giles suggested gently. That would be the easiest place to clean her up. “Tara, I hate to ask, and I will replace it for you, but you’re the only one here that has clothes that might fit her. If you can find something for her to wear, it would be greatly appreciated.” Giles rubbed his face, this night was going to only get longer. “Anya, I want you to stay here with Dawn and Connor.”

“But...” Anya began but snapped her mouth closed when Giles glared at her.

“For once in your very long life, just do as your told,” he growled in frustration. “We need someone to stay here with them.” He also knew Anya’s infamous lack of tact would not be tolerated tonight, of all nights.

As the former vengeance demon gave in, Lorne and Xander silently took Cordy’s body upstairs to the bathroom, followed by Fred. Once they had placed her in the tub, she waved them out then retrieved several towels and kneeled on the floor next to the bathtub, staring for a few moments at her friend. If not for the unnatural angle her head lolled, she might have just been sleeping, just needing a good poke to wake her up.

“Oh, Cordy,” Fred sighed softly before reaching over and turning on the faucet to wet the washcloth in her hand. She began scrubbing the other girl’s face, wiping away the blood that had dried from the cut on her temple. “I wish things had been different, that we had been able to make you understand, but you were always were a force of nature from the moment I met you, the way you acted on Pylea. I should have realized that you wouldn’t be a slave for long with that attitude of yours. I...I’m glad you were my friend.”

*****

Tara rifled through her clothes in the master bedroom, looking for something to fit her family’s dead friend. She could see the pain in all of them. The pain that was obviously more accute in Wes, Fred and Xander – who, she had since learned, had dated Cordelia at one point. And Giles, of course, since he was hurting for his lovers.

Grabbing a couple of bags from the back of the closet, she began filling them with the rest of hers and Willow’s clothes. It didn’t seem fair to leave their things there when the three of them could use the space. As she packed, she set aside one of her better skirts, a long maroon one. She was nearly finished packing when she withdrew a white sweater with a maroon cat near the hip. With a sad sigh, she gathered up the bags, setting them outside the door before returning for the clothes.

With them in hand, she made her way to the bathroom and knocked softly on the door. “It...it’s Tara. I have some clothes for Cordelia,” she called, her voice gentle.

Fred looked up from what she was doing toward the door. “Come in, Tara,” she told her. When the young woman walked in, she gave her a wan but grateful smile. “Thank you for letting us...” She glanced back at the still face of her dead friend and shook her head, trying to keep from tearing up again. “Are you sure you don’t mind parting with that outfit?”

“I don’t mind,” she replied softly. Setting the clothes down on the back of the toilet, her brow furrowed when she looked at Fred’s aura. Normally, she would have a hard time finding the nerve to do this, but this was Giles’ lover. It made things easier. Slowly, she reached out and hugged the other girl. Fred looked like she needed it.

The arms wrapping around her surprised her at first, but after a moment, Fred realized what Tara was doing, and instinctively she returned the hug. The tears she had been holding back since the morning came back, and she cried for several minutes until she realized what she was doing. On this poor girl that didn’t really even know her. “I...I’m sorry. I didn’t...” She looked up at the ceiling for a moment. “We’ve lost two friends in less than a week, and another friend’s been taken over by a demon. I feel like I’m on some sort of emotional roller coaster, and I can’t get off.”

“You don’t have to apologize. You’re entitled to cry. I know you’re trying to be strong for Wesley, but you’ll get nothing but support here from us,” she promised the older woman. “You have a good heart, I can tell. Don’t try and stifle it for anyone.”

With a nod, Fred fixed her gaze back on the other woman. “Thanks. It’s just...Wes has been through so much. He tried to do the right thing, and he got hurt. Now...all this.”

Tara nodded, not needing to read Wesley’s aura to know that he had been through a lot. The scar on his throat was enough, if nothing else, but she had been the one to take Giles’ call. She had heard the worry in his voice when he said he had to go to LA. “You love him, so it’s understandable.”

Fred reached over and brushed Cordy’s hair back from her forehead. “And I’m...the fact that all of you have accepted us into your family here means more to us than I think either of us can say. Especially now.”

She waved off her thanks with a sad smile. “It wasn’t difficult. You’re both good souls; I can see it in your auras. Giles obviously loves you – we’ve never seen him like this. It’s a good thing.”

Shifting up onto her knees, Fred took a deep breath and reached for the hem of Cordy’s top. “Can you help me with her? We need to get these off her so I can clean her up properly and then get the clothes you brought in on her.”

Wordlessly, Tara stepped forward, gripping Cordelia’s shoulders gently and moving her forward so that Fred could slide her shirt off easily. Once she had, she reached for the skirt, pausing a moment before pulled it down over Cordy’s hips and off her legs. When she did, she noticed that her friend had no underwear on, and a piece of the recording she had heard before Wesley had tried to shield her from it hit her like a punch in the stomach.

“Oh, God,” she whispered. “Angelus...he tried to...”

Tara looked down and realized what was affecting the older woman so much. “He didn’t though,” she replied, her voice a little more firm, knowing Fred needed this reassurance. Hoping break through her shock, she repeated, “Willow and I listened to the entire tape. He didn’t...”

Fred managed to turn her head away from her friend’s body, staring into Tara’s eyes and seeing the certainty in them. She wasn’t telling her this just to make her feel better – she wouldn’t do that, Fred could tell. “She would never submit. No matter what was at stake.” Tara nodded, and she took a deep breath before whispering, “You went out a fighter, Cordy.”

“I...I didn’t know her,” the other woman admitted quietly. “But Willow has been talking about her for the last few hours. I got the impression she was larger than life. That she wouldn’t balk about taking on anyone.”

“She wouldn’t. She always let people know exactly what she was thinking. And she was possibly the most stubborn person I’ve ever met,” Fred replied softly.

Together, she and Tara got Cordy cleaned up and dried off, then lifted her out of the tub to dress her. When Fred saw that cat on the sweater, she could almost hear her friend’s voice in her head, asking her what in the world she thought she was dressing her in, but didn’t say anything. Tara had been so kind in providing the clothes and in the way she had been helping her, so she didn’t want to hurt her feelings.

“Okay,” she said when they were finished. “We should tell Rupert and Wes we’re done.”

Tara nodded. “Take as much time as you need, though, if you’re not ready. Giles won’t let us leave until Spike gets here anyways.”

“I know.” After a few moments looking silently at her dead friend, she finally got to her feet went to door to open it. She and Tara headed downstairs where they found everyone. “We...we’re finished, getting her ready,” she told them.

“I’ll get her,” Wesley rasped, passing Tara as he moved up the stairs. He was surprised to see the clothes they put her in, hearing her voice in his head. What the hell, Wes! A cat?! He gave a soggy chuckle, taking a knee by the tub. Brushing her hair away from her forehead, he took a shaky breath. “I’m so sorry we couldn’t save you. I’m going to miss you,” he whispered. “Who’s going to tell me not to wear that ugly shirt now?”

Smiling sadly, he reached down and lifted her into his arms effortlessly.

*****

Spike walked up the front steps, surprised to see the SUV in the driveway and the front door still open. Going inside the house, his mood immediately darkened upon seeing the look on everyone’s face. “Okay who pissed in the Cheerios this mornin?” he asked, his eyes widened in surprise when he saw Lorne standing there. “Oi! Who’s this?”

“I could ask the same question of you. Didn’t anyone tell you the Billy Idol look went out decades ago, Cheekbones?” Lorne asked, crossing his arms as he glared at man who had just walked in.

“Guys, stop!” Buffy said as she pushed herself up from the chair she had been sitting in. “Lorne, this is Spike, a...friend of ours. Sort of. Spike, this is Lorne, a friend of Wesley and Fred. He just...” She put her hands on her hips as she looked him directly in the eye. “Angelus is back. He murdered Cordelia, and Lorne brought her back home so we can bury her.”

Spike wanted to snap back at demon boy, or at least smack him around, but froze when Buffy said Cordelia was dead, and Angelus was the culprit. “So, he’s back. What’s the plan, Watcher?” he asked, looking at Giles.

“You, Buffy and I will stand guard, triangular pattern, while the others bury her. When that’s done, we get ready for a war.” He frowned, knowing what Spike wanted to know. “No resouling. He shows his face – we dust him.”

Buffy looked at Spike as Giles said this. She knew there was no love lost between Spike and Angelus, but if the two vampires were in close proximity to each, would they be able to trust Spike even with his chip and everything he had done in the past? He had managed to break free of Drusilla, but this was Angelus. “Spike...the others asked me because of my past with Angel, so I have to know from you. Can we trust you to be with us on this, no matter what happens?”

“Let’s see, do I have a problem taking out the berk that made my life a living hell for over a century?” He snorted, annoyed that they could even ask him that. “Not in the slightest. ‘Sides, you lot need me. No one knows the poof better than me.”

Buffy glanced over at Giles. “He’s right. He knows more about Angelus’ tactics than anyone here. He’ll know how he might strike.”

“So that’s Spike,” Lorne murmured, just loud enough for Fred to hear. Both of them had heard a few stories about the blond vamp before coming to Sunnydale though Lorne knew a bit more, thanks to what he had read from Angel during a few of his Karaoke sessions at Caritas. If this guy was on their side now, the fight with Angelus had definitely taken an interesting turn.

“Mommy, Giles said all of you are going to stop the bad man?” Connor asked from where he had been sitting on the floor, playing with a couple of the toys they had bought him.

Walking over to him, Fred leaned down and picked him up in her arms to hug him tightly. “Yes, sweetie. We’re going to do everything we can to stop him.”

Wesley came down the stairs, with Cordelia cradled against his chest. He was careful not to bump her on anything further, wanting his friend to finally have her peace. His sad blue eyes fell on Fred and Lorne, and he had to bite the inside of his cheek to keep from crying.

“Spike, Buffy, arm yourselves. It’s time to go,” he instructed, his voice as sad as the expression on his face. “Dawn, take Connor. Everyone know what they have to do?”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah, protect while they bury the cheerleader,” Spike droned, reaching into the chest for a short sword.

Connor hugged his mother tightly one last time before letting Dawn take him from her. Fred kissed his forehead before crossing over to Wesley, her eyes narrowing at Spike’s derisive tone when he spoke about Cordelia. As she walked by him while he leaned over the weapons chest, she smacked him across the back of the head.

“Cordy was more than just a cheerleader,” she told him. “She helped save me.”

“Sorry – cheerleader with attitude,” he snarked, stumbling forward when Xander kicked him square in the ass.

“Knock it off, fang boy, and show a little respect,” the young man growled. “Just pull your guard duty, silently, without comment, then do us all a favor and go away.”

Fred gave Xander a grateful look, reaching out to squeeze his arm for a moment before walking over to Wesley. “Is there anything you need me to get before we leave?” she asked softly.

“We’ll need a grave marker of some kind, one that won’t draw Angelus’ attention.” He thought for a moment then thought of something. “Lorne, did you bring my cane from the closet?”

“Yeah, I remember grabbing that.”

Wesley nodded at his green friend. “When I was shot, I walked with a cane for a few weeks, but Angel was so focused on getting out of the dog house with Cordelia, I doubt he noticed it. We can use that as a gravemarker. Do you remember where you packed it?”

Lorne thought for a moment, trying to remember everything he had packed since it had been so rushed. “I put it in a bag with the swords from your weapons collection since it’s roughly the same size. They’re in the back of the SUV. Let me go get it.”

“No,” Buffy said, looking outside into the dark. “At least, you’re not going alone. I’ll come with you.”

He nodded, and the two of them hurried out to the car, where he grabbed the sword bag from the back and brought it inside, where he opened it up and pulled out the cane. “This the one you meant?”

“Yes, that’s the one. We’ll have to push it far enough into the ground that we can use it as a marker but not draw too much attention to the grave.” Wes sighed. “Once Angelus is dealt with, we can see about getting her a proper headstone.”

As they nodded in agreement, Lorne handed the cane to Fred before straightening up from the floor.

“I packed a couple of shovels from the construction site that we can use to dig the grave,” Xander offered, motioning to his car. “They’re in the trunk.”

“All right,” Buffy said, grabbing several weapons from the chest before looking at everyone assembled. “We should probably get going. I hate to sound callous, but we need to do this and get back here.”

*****

Comments 
16th-Jul-2006 06:26 am (UTC)
Excellent update; am still enjoying this very much, and biting my nails wondering what will happen next.
16th-Jul-2006 01:59 pm (UTC)
Brilliant... as always. Update when you can please ladies.... Or I'll nag and nag on yahoo. :P
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