DISCLAIMER: Not mine, which is a shame because usually we're nicer to them than Joss was.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Buffy and Faith went to LA to find out what was going on with Spike, only to discover his hospital bed empty and covered in dust…

* * *

Chapter Three: Social Grace is a Waste of Time

Buffy didn’t know whether to laugh, cry, or hit someone very hard, but the longer she stood there staring at Spike’s dust-covered bed, the better the odds she’d do all three at the same time.

Pushing Angel out of her way, she bolted for the hall, gulping down deep swallows of air as the muffin Faith had forced on her on the ride from the airport threatened to come back up. Heavy footsteps followed her, echoing her thundering heart, but Angel reached the nurses’ station a split second before she did.

“Where’s Spike?” he barked before Buffy had the chance to speak.

The young nurse paled, her eyes darting from Angel to Buffy to the corridor behind them. “He should be asleep—”

“Turns out should be doesn’t actually mean the same as is.” He leaned across the counter and snatched up a file, and Buffy caught the name, Pratt, William, typed across the tab. “I want to know who…” His voice faded away as his frown blackened, and he rapidly flipped through the casenotes, searching for something in the back.

“What is it?” Buffy demanded.

“It’s a mistake, that’s what it is.”

Faith, Wes, and Andrew came up behind them as Angel snapped the folder shut and glared at the nurse. “What seems to be the problem?” Wesley’s voice was an unexpected calm in the maelstrom that seemed to have taken up inside Buffy’s head. When Angel didn’t respond right away, Wes carefully eased the file out of Angel’s grip and opened it to examine himself. “Oh my,” he murmured.

Her stomach sank. “Is there some sort of Watcher class that teaches you guys what words to use to not panic Slayers?” Buffy snapped. “Because, guess what? It didn’t work for Giles and it’s not working for you. What’s going on here? Where’s Spike? Tell me he’s been transferred and Angel’s staff does as bad a job cleaning up as Dawn does.”

Closing the file, Wes took a deep breath. “There’s no indication that Spike’s been moved. In fact, according to the notes, the last person to see Spike was Angel.”

Angel gripped the edge of the counter and bowed his head, staring at the floor. When he spoke, his voice was so low that Buffy had to strain to hear him. “The last time I saw Spike, they were wheeling him out after surgery. Last night.”

“Harmony was looking for you earlier,” Wes said.

“And she found me. Which is why I’m here.” The slow lift of his head was like a wild animal spotting its prey, reminding Buffy yet again how dangerous Angel could be. His eyes glittered as he said to the nurse, “Who tracks Spike’s visitors?”

“I do.”

“Then you’re fired.”

“But you were just here,” the nurse argued. Buffy had to give her points for courage; there was no denying Angel’s fury and the young woman wasn’t backing down. “You got off the elevator, and you went straight to his room. You didn’t even stop and ask me how he was.” She pointed a wavering finger at something hidden behind the counter, and Buffy, along with everybody else, leaned over to see the bank of monitors showing patient rooms tucked out of view of passers-by. “I watched you go in.”

“Did you watch me stake him, too, then?” Angel said, sarcasm dripping from his words.

“Well, no, but—”

“How could you not realize his bed was empty?” Buffy interrupted.

The color was rising in the girl’s face. “Because I don’t sit here and stare at the monitors all day,” she retorted. “I’ve got a job to do. The only reason I watched to see where Mr. Angel was going was because he didn’t tell me himself, and I knew I’d need to log it in the patient’s file.” She reached for the phone. “I’ll call housekeeping to come and take care of—”

Angel’s hand shot out and grabbed her wrist. “No, you won’t. Nobody’s touching that room until we find Spike.”

“I’ll check with Security,” Wes said. “I’m fairly certain they record everything. I can review the footage from Spike’s room for the past few hours to determine what exactly happened.”

“I’ll take a piece of that,” Faith said.

For a moment, Wes regarded her in silence before nodding in acquiescence. “I’ll get Fred down here, as well. She gathered quite a bit of information on Spike when she was trying to recorporealize him. It should be possible for her to run some sort of analysis with the dust on the bed to confirm whether or not it’s him.”

“Good idea.” Releasing the nurse’s wrist, Angel picked up the phone and punched an extension. “In the meantime, I’m going to have Harmony put out an alert that Spike’s gone missing. Maybe he’s just high on painkillers and got bored and took off.”

“Nobody can get out of here without me seeing them,” the nurse argued, but shut up and shrank away when Angel shot her another fierce glare.

As Angel spoke with Harmony on the phone, Wes stepped forward and took Buffy’s arm, pulling her away from the fray to the quieter area of the waiting room. “I’m sure Spike’s somewhere in the building,” he said softly. “I don’t know how much you’ve been told, but he spent a great deal of time as a ghost after he came out of the amulet, wandering these halls. If there are ways to get around undetected, Spike has found them, I assure you. But that doesn’t mean we won’t find him.”

The words were mildly comforting, and infinitely more so than considering that Angel had staked Spike in a fit of pique. Buffy rubbed at her weary eyes, but all she could see was the ash covering the sterile hospital sheets. “You don’t think it’s possible he’s hiding from me, do you?” she asked. “I know he didn’t want me to know he’s alive.”

“I don’t see how he could have known you’d be coming. Andrew didn’t call ahead to announce your arrival, did he?”

She glanced back to see Andrew hovering at Angel’s elbow, the words Grissom and evidence and something about pennies floating back to her ears. “I don’t think so, but maybe I should talk to him anyway.”

Buffy was stopped from doing that by Wesley’s light touch on her shoulder. “I know this looks rather badly for Angel,” he said, dropping his voice even further. “But, really, you shouldn’t be so hard on him. I can’t believe that he’d do anything as rash as staking Spike in his own hospital bed. Granted, he and Spike have a rather…adversarial relationship, but he was more concerned than any of us about what happened to Spike at the distillery. He watched the entire procedure where they reattached his arms, you know.”

Buffy sighed. “I know.” She was two steps away before she paused and added, “Thanks, Wes.”

Faith cut her off from getting too close to Angel, her eyes large and solemn. “So what’s the plan?”

She knew what Faith was doing, putting herself as watchdog on Angel to keep Buffy from attacking him. And while Buffy knew she had that impulse, she also recognized that it wasn’t going to accomplish anything. She might not think Angel was completely non-evil at the moment, but Wesley seemed to be doing everything in his power to help. She was going to have to trust him, at least for the time being.

“I need to talk to Andrew where I can hurt him without witnesses if I have to,” she said. “And if I stick around here, I’m either going to get in the way, or Angel and I will get even more pissed at each other because I’m tired and he’s…Angel. Either way, it’s not going to help find Spike.”

“So wanna find a dark alley?” Faith said with a wry twist of her mouth.

“More like, a cab ride to Watts. I’ve got to deal with Dana, too, and maybe talking to her new doctor will distract me while Wes gets us some answers.”

It was taking all her concentration not to stare at Angel’s dark form looming in the background. His face had clouded at her mention of the Institute and Dana, but thankfully, he didn’t say anything, his mouth compressing so tightly that it almost disappeared.

Faith didn’t look so thrilled about her plan, either. “Maybe I should come with,” she said. “It’s not like Wes needs me bugging him. And I don’t know shit about the mumbo jumbo he’s going to have Fred doing.”

Buffy rolled her eyes. “I don’t need a babysitter.”

“Who said this was for you?” Faith pulled at her tight tank top, squirming inside the garment. “I just want to hit a hot shower and get some decent food. You can run on fumes all you want, B, but count me out of your bid for sainthood.”

“We’ll call you as soon as we discover anything, of course,” Wesley intervened. “What hotel are you staying at?”

“We’re not. We’re staying at Watts.”

That took both Angel and Wes by surprise. “Why?” Angel barked.

“Because the other Slayers are already set up there to protect Dana,” she retorted. “If it’s good enough for them—”

“None of them were committed there. It’s not like it’s Club Med, Buffy.”

“I really don’t think it’s going to be a problem remembering that, Angel.” Deliberately, she turned back to Wes. “You can reach us at Watts.”

Wes nodded, but already Buffy’s mind was moving on. There were even more questions now than when she’d left, and not one of the potential answers she had filled Buffy with hope. Part of her didn’t even know what she wanted Spike to say when she saw him. She’d been so focused on getting to LA that she hadn’t thought that far ahead. And the very real possibility that he’d somehow found she was coming and decided to make himself scarce hurt more deeply than she wanted to admit. Because that meant all his threats to Andrew about keeping mum had been real, real enough for him to prefer risking the wrath of Angel even more than he already did to facing her.

Her gaze returned to Angel. In order to understand any of this, she needed to understand what his relationship with Spike had been – was, she hastened to correct. But that required both of them being a lot calmer than they were now.

“We’ll call as soon as we find anything out,” Angel said, repeating Wesley’s offer. “Even though I think you’re making a big mistake not staying at a hotel.”

She gritted her teeth to keep from replying. It was a mild balm just to know she wasn’t going to be left out of the loop. But it didn’t stop the specter of Spike’s dust rising before her mind’s eye as they headed for the elevator.

* * *

Wesley wanted to wait until they were alone before speaking with Angel directly, but as soon as Buffy turned her back on him, Angel was marching back to the nurses’ station, picking up Spike’s file and reaching for the phone again.

“What are you doing?” Wes asked.

“Calling Spike’s doctor,” came the reply. “I want to know exactly what his status was the last time he saw him. And if I find out Spike walked out of here on his own two feet to leave me to deal with Buffy, I really will stake him.”

Any doubts that there was more to this than met the eye were banished in the face of Angel’s mood. This was not feigned irritation, though Wes wondered if it was entirely about Spike. It was quite likely that Angel was going to such lengths to search for the other vampire because of Buffy’s obvious vested interest in the matter. Though he hadn’t said much of anything at the time, Wes knew Angel had been stung by hers and the Council’s view on him now as the head of Wolfram & Hart’s LA branch. Clearing his name and setting this to right was a step toward regaining her trust.

“I’ll let you know as soon as Fred or I discover anything useful,” he said.

Angel’s wave was perfunctory, and Wes left him to his call, already mulling over further rationalizations for Spike’s disappearance. There were a number of possibilities, but nothing he came up with satisfied all the details. Like why the nurse would lie about seeing Angel go into Spike’s room. That was the one that slipped through the cracks no matter what theory Wes posited.

He was still lost in thought after he left Fred. With his head bowed and his mind elsewhere, he didn’t see Eve approaching until she stood right in front of him, forcing Wes to come to a halt.

“Is the whole place in the clouds?” she asked with a smile. She didn’t wait for a response. “I’m trying to find the big guy, but nobody’s seen him around all day. Any clues where I can track him down?”

The last thing Wesley wanted was to alert Eve to the events with Spike. Technically, Spike wasn’t an employee and, therefore, none of her concern, but Angel had utilized the firm’s resources in tracking Dana. They might deem any subsequent consequences their business.

“He’s dealing with an emergency,” he said, keeping his voice even. “And I’m actually in the middle of something myself. Is it urgent, Eve? Or can I let Angel know that you’re looking for him so that he can contact you later?”

“The Senior Partners are starting to get a little curious why he hasn’t updated them on the Dana situation,” she said. When he resumed walking, she fell into step beside him, doubling her pace in order to match his longer strides. “They understand he has a personal interest in her, considering she’s a Slayer, but they’re not happy he’s taking so long to get it under control.”

“You can inform the Senior Partners that the situation is under control. The Watchers’ Council has taken Dana into their custody, which means our intercession is no longer required.”

“Is that what Angel told you?”

Her odd question dragged him to another stop, but when he turned a quizzical eye to Eve, she still wore that same insipid smile she always did.

“He must be dealing on a need-to-know basis,” she said. “Oh well. I guess that means I’m going to have to speak with him directly about this. Sorry, pal. But thanks for the offer.”

With an annoying waggle of her fingers, Eve shifted course and walked down a different hallway, her short skirt flipping around her legs. Wes watched her until she disappeared, her final words echoing inside his head.

It wasn’t like Angel to leave him out of the loop on these matters, especially after what had happened with the Selminth parasite. That entire incident had drawn them closer together. Working to discover where Dana had taken Spike had only cemented that, he thought.

So why did Eve need to speak to Angel about a case that was supposedly closed?

* * *

Though Andrew had been blessedly quiet while they were at Wolfram and Hart, as soon as they left, he turned into Chatty Cathy, talking about everything from how cool the firm’s technology was to Angel’s coat to how certain he was that Spike was okay because if he could survive a Hellmouth collapsing in on him, he could survive anything.

“It’s not like he’s Dracula,” Buffy finally snapped. “Spike is not going to keep getting ‘get out of death’ free cards. For all we know—”

“We know shit,” Faith interrupted. “It’s why Wes is leading the brain brigade, remember?”

Her mouth was open to retort, but one glance at Faith was all Buffy needed to close it again. She shot a glare toward Andrew and burrowed into the corner of the cab, staring out the window at the LA scenery passing by. Andrew had denied until he was literally blue in the face that he’d alerted Spike to their arrival, so that was a dead end. That meant she had to focus. Think about Dana. Don’t think about Spike or dust or—

Focus.

The rest of the trip passed in silence, though watching shops she recognized and street signs she could read was more relaxing than she anticipated. All of that flew out the window when the cab rolled to a stop in front of the Watts Institute. All of a sudden, she was fifteen again, and panic stalked the night with golden eyes and a fang-filled smile.

Andrew hopped out of the car without even looking back, leaving Faith and Buffy to straggle afterward. They had stopped on the way to Wolfram & Hart, but she hadn’t gotten out of the car then, watching through the window as Andrew handed hers and Faith’s bags over to an orderly straight out of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. This was different. This was walking into nightmares bold old and recent. Watts had come back to living color in those hallucinations that had almost had her killing her family and friends.

She hesitated on the sidewalk.

She should have insisted Giles transfer Dana to another facility.

“You okay?” Faith’s voice was low and even at her side. It definitely leaned toward the side of freaky how she seemed to get Buffy’s moods these days, but if she wanted to be honest with herself, Buffy was grateful for it. It was nice that at least one thing was reasonably easy.

“Yeah. I’ll be fine.”

“Nothing wrong with finding a Holiday Inn. No risks of falling into a strait jacket then. Just stale donuts on the breakfast bar.”

Buffy just smiled and shook her head, setting down the path Andrew had forged as he’d scurried toward the front door. They were scheduled to meet with Dana’s doctor that evening, but hopefully she’d be able to see Buffy sooner. She wanted to know everything there was about Dana’s condition, and what the odds were of getting her to a state where she wouldn’t be a threat to the general populace. Having a crazy Slayer was a possibility nobody had considered, though considering what had happened with Faith, maybe they should have. Buffy really didn’t want to think about what she’d have to do if Dana’s situation wasn’t fixable. She’d felt good about giving the power to all those girls; taking it away was an entirely different matter.

“Going to hit the little girl’s room,” Faith said as soon as they stepped inside. “This jet lag’s given me a wicked headache. I’ll be right back.”

Though Buffy nodded, she was frozen with the rush of memories that hit her from every angle. The assault of antiseptic. The white that bled off the walls. The distinct sound of footsteps echoing on tiled floors. Andrew waited a few feet ahead, an expectant smile brightening his over-eager face, but over his features were others, ghosts of doctors gone by, and Buffy had to blink more than once for them to go away.

“This is Dr. Guerrero’s office,” he said, pointing at a closed door. “She’s been spending all her time with Dana on the ward, but we can have her paged to let her know we’re here.”

“I remember the doctors being somewhere else,” Buffy said with a frown. Finally, her feet started working again, and she closed the distance between them to peer through the window beside the door. “Why isn’t she with the rest of the staff?” Not that she was complaining. The further she went into Watts, the worse the flashbacks would get, she thought.

“This was the only space available on such short notice.” He pushed the door open for them to enter. When he spoke again, his voice was half its volume, as if he’d just walked into a library instead of a doctor’s receptionist area. “And the doc said she liked it better this way anyway. It keeps her from getting involved in other patients.”

A middle-aged woman sat at the desk, arguing with a dark-haired man standing in front of it. “I’m sorry, sir, but Dr. Guerrero’s very picky about her schedule. If you’re not on it, you don’t see her.”

“Aw, c’mon.” There was a drawl to his cajoling tone, matching the slow smile on his lean face. “We both know Dr. Guerrero’s new in town. She’s going to need all the help she can get on this case. And I’ve dealt with girls just like Dana before. She needs my expertise.”

Mention of Dana perked Buffy’s ears. When she took a step closer in order to better hear, it drew the receptionist’s attention, who visibly relaxed when she spied Andrew.

“Hey, Deb,” he said. “This is Buffy. We’re early.”

The man turned around at the sound of Andrew’s voice. He was younger than Buffy had expected, thirty at the outside, with sharp, blue eyes that she suspected missed very little. For a second, she thought she saw a flare of recognition in them when his gaze swept over her, but it was gone as quickly as she imagined it, leaving her to return her focus to Deb behind him.

“Actually, I think I’m going to go freshen up first,” Buffy said. “Is it okay if I come back in, say…half an hour?”

Deb nodded. “Now, you, she was expecting.” She glanced in annoyance at the man, who didn’t seem the least bit abashed about being pushy. “And the only way you’re going to speak the doctor is if you leave your number for her to call. Otherwise, I’m going to call security and have them escort you out.”

Buffy retreated from the scene, unwilling to get dragged into it. Out in the hall, however, the friendly tone of the man stopped her, and she turned to see him following her out.

“I know you don’t know me from Adam,” he said, offering a smile, “but I’m wondering if you can help me.”

She shook her head. “I don’t work here.”

“I know. But you’re here to see Dr. Guerrero, which means you’re here about Dana Jameson. Which is why I’m here.”

Her eyes narrowed, alarm bells pealing inside her head. Andrew hadn’t said a word in there about the purpose of their appointment. “How do you know that? I could be a patient.”

He chuckled as if she’d said something humorous. “Dr. Guerrero only has one patient in Watts, and her specialty tends to wear a little more blood than you’re currently sporting.”

“That’s because you haven’t seen me at night,” she deadpanned.

Her sarcasm went ignored. “I’m here for Dana’s sake,” he continued. “The man who tortured her…Walter Kindel? She wasn’t his only victim, and when I found out Dana was in a new facility…” He shrugged. “If I can help even a little bit, it’ll be worth it. And maybe I can’t. But I have to at least try.”

He knew way too much for this to be a mistake. If asked, Buffy wouldn’t have been able to say what the name of Dana’s torturer had been, but hearing it, she knew it was right. And she knew the man had been a monster. There was no telling how many other people he’d hurt, and if this guy knew anything, it could only help Dana.

“Who are you?” she asked. “No offense, but you don’t look like a doctor.”

“That’s because he’s not.”

Faith’s voice made the man stiffen and take a step back, though his friendly smile never faded from his face. “Well, well,” he said. “Never expected to see you again without a sheet of plexiglass between us, Faith. But gotta say, freedom looks good on you.”

“Wait.” Without letting the guy out of her sight, Buffy shifted so that she could address Faith. “You two know each other?”

Faith’s eyes never wavered, and though she would have appeared relaxed to the casual onlooker, head tilted, hip cocked, Buffy saw the coiled tension ready to spring in her powerful muscles. “Old business acquaintances, more like it. This is the suit who hired me to off Angel, back in the day. Isn’t that right, Lindsey?”

 

To be continued in Chapter 4: Disbelief That I Do Suspend