Part 12

 

Wesley glanced up to find Spike standing at his desk. He straightened and pushed himself back slightly, attempting to look relaxed, but suspecting he was fooling no one.

 

“Spike?”

 

The vampire lifted distracted eyes from their intense examination of the office floor.

 

“Yeah, need some info and you know a lot of stuff…”

 

Wesley remembered the last time Spike had complimented him on his knowledge.

 

“If you’re going to ask me if Buddha is a Silth demon…”

 

“Nah, nothing like that…. Buddha was a Silth?”

 

Wesley contained a private smirk and Spike’s lips twitched reluctantly into a smile, acknowledging that he had been tripped by his own flagstone. His good grace surprised the human, who had been expecting snarkiness and profanities. But if he found the vampire confusing and impenetrable, then the feeling was mutual. There was something about this human Spike couldn’t quite suss.

 

“What do you want Spike?” Wesley made an effort to smother their moment of camaraderie and understanding. For a moment, he had caught something genuine, and almost understood why Angel loved him. “Because I’m not entirely sure I’m in the mood to talk with you or Angel until your childishness ends.”

 

Spike wondered how to navigate through this, and finally decided on a certain bluntness.

 

“Trust us, yeah? We know what we’re doing.” Honesty persuaded him to add, “Sort of.”

 

“Trust…! Oh sorry, you’re serious.” The smile faded and Wesley slowly nodded, not convinced, but aware that perhaps that there was more happening than met the eye. “So… you have a question?”

 

“I’m researching pregnancy…”

 

“That begs a question….”

 

“Natural curiosity?”

 

“You’re not pregnant are you?” Wesley was only half joking, given the weirdness that passed as their lives.

 

“Sod off! I worry about you sometimes, Percy, I really do.”

 

“Then what?” Wesley pushed back his glasses. “Is this about Connor?”

 

“Connor? Yeah… Connor. So how early can a baby be born without harming it?”

 

Wesley frowned. He didn’t see the connection to Connor.

 

“I think these days, generally from twenty-five weeks infants survive with medical attention, steroids, etcetera. From thirty-six weeks onwards they require only the bare minimum of medical attention.”

 

“So up to four weeks early and everything’s normal?”

 

“I don’t understand why you need to know this. Babies tend to come along when they’re ready.”

 

“Yeah, they do, don’t them…?” Spike thought for a moment, “So how would you go about inducing labour?”

 

Wesley’s frown deepened, not comfortable with where this conversation was going.

 

“I wouldn’t. Nor should you.”

 

“But supposing the baby was in danger, you know, if it went full term.”

 

“Oh! Medical reasons.” Wesley sighed his relief. “I believe the common drug is Pitocin. There are other more traditional methods, however. Castor oil, nipple stimulation, sex, black and blue cohosh…”

 

“Uh huh. Do they work?”

 

“They can help stimulate contractions, but only if the Mother is ready to give birth.”

 

Wesley was curious, had had to admit that even after all this time, he didn’t really have a handle on this oddest of vampires.

 

“Oh. So Pitocin…?”

 

Just then, Spike caught sight of one of Izzy’s cronies.

 

“It’s ok, cheers for that, Watcher. Gotta go. Catch you later.”

 

Turning to the door, he haled the demon. “Chey? Wait up a minute!”

 

The demon looked surprise.

 

“Spike?”

 

“Yeah. Just want to say, you know, no hard feelings.”

 

He patted the demon on his back and then turned to leave, but halted in his tracks as Chey grabbed his arm.

 

“Hard feelings? About what?”

 

Spike shook off the hand, saying with a frown, “Well, word is that Izzy had a ‘secret’,” Spike fingered quotation marks around the word, “meeting with Angel…”

 

“He what?”

 

“He’s your head honcho, ain’t he? S’pose he didn’t think it was your business to know. Anyway, he told Angel that you lot were all rooting for him….”

 

“The hell we are! Course the guy’s not out leader. What made you think that?”

 

“He does kinda speak for your group, yeah?”

 

“Uh, kinda not! We’re all equals you know, but there he is, pushing himself forward, pretending like he’s the man, sticking his long nose into everyone’s business. It really pisses me off watching him take the credit for whatever we do. Shit, we he haven’t even discussed which candidate to favour yet.”

 

Chey was turning blue with anger.

 

“Huh. That don’t sound very fair. I just assumed that he made your decisions. I mean, you do tend to fade into the background, and then what with seeing his piccy wherever I go….”

 

“We’re there, whoring our backsides off to gather more souls, whilst he’s messing around with pathetic attempts at self-publicity. It makes him feel important, but everyone else finds it irritating and more than a little uncool.  Wherever there’s an artist, there he is being clever, tempting them and all. Everyone knows he just wants the fame of being in their work. He’s nothing but a laughing stock!”

 

“Tell me about it. Did you ever meet Angelus? Now there was one who loved grabbing the limelight. We were the frigging Fanged Four. Worked together you know, but guess who gets the title Scourge of Europe. Tosser.”

 

“And the way he sucks up to the people in power, takes the praise and the glory, thinking he’s so goddamned fly…” Chey was becoming ever more irate.

 

“That’s the way things are. World’s divided into people who do the work and people who take the credit.”

 

“You talk a lot of sense, Pal.”

 

“Not that you’d think it from the way Angel goes on.”

 

Chey regarded him with genuine empathy, he’d found a brother under the skin.

 

“Hey, don’t worry about that, man. No one really listens to what he says anyway. Sure some people are easily impressed by reps, but it seems to me you’ve done just as much as he has.”

 

“He seems to crave the attention, always seen that as a weakness of me Sire’s. So Izzy don’t tell you what to do then?”

 

“Is that what he told Angel? This has gone on for centuries and we’ve foolishly turned a blind eye to it, but he has really overstepped the mark this time….” Chey’s anger was turning to cold calculation and Spike took the opportunity to feed it a little more.

 

“Seems to me he’s assuming you lot are soft. Hey, just how it looks from the outside.” Spike held up his hands, disclaiming all responsibility for such a view. “Surprised you allow it though, least I make the effort to show Angel the error of his ways.”

 

They watched from the gallery as Angel walked across the lobby, clutching his injured hand, signs of their fight displayed on his body.

 

“I’m thinking you have the right idea my friend. Time my self-styled leader was put back in his place.”

 

“Yeah. Can’t just let him walk all over you, can you, else where will it all end?”

 

Chey nodded his vehement agreement, and Spike, satisfied that his job was done, decided to call it a night. He had a meeting first thing in the morning with Vail. Reluctantly he turned away from Angel’s private elevator and returned to his empty apartment. Suddenly this plan seemed crap. He wanted to spend tonight with his sire. No, with his lover, he corrected himself. He wanted to feel large hands moving over his skin, covering him possessively….

 

Yeah, this was a really crap plan.

 

Angel put down the report that Mede had left for him He grudgingly admitted that it was more than fair, so that was one little drama he could now relegate to the past.

 

He stared through the glass interior of his office, watching as Spike left for the evening, knowing that he was in for another sleepless night. He couldn’t rest these days without Spike’s cool body curled up around him. When he was alone he had too much time to think, and his thoughts weren’t happy. 

 

Sometimes it was difficult to see how they would survive the outcome of their actions against the Circle.  Even if they did, what would be left for them?  Unsatisfied longing and need stretched endlessly before them. How long would Spike suffer that deprivation before finding someone else? Angel’s face remained blank, but already he was building the whole Spike leaving scenario, envisaging the touching farewell scene: ‘Ok, I’m off. See you around, Poof.’ Leaving Angel staring after him, doomed to face an eternity of empty days…

 

He sighed and wondered what affect sleeping tablets had on vampires.

 

It was important he was fresh and clear-headed for the morning. Thanks to the discussion in the bar, Angel felt remarkably enlightened, and at least had an idea of how to approach Senator Brucker. Before he could change his mind he had called to arrange an appointment, and the Senator had eagerly cleared her diary for him. They were scheduled to meet at 9.00am. Even fully alert, this would be a tough test of his newly awakened political acumen.

 

Unfortunately, his prediction proved all to true, without Spike to distract him from brooding, he hardly closed his eyes, and appeared the following morning looking tired and feeling irritable.

 

The Senator was already waiting for him, well groomed and alert, clearly impatient for this meeting. 

 

He painted on a smile that surely every politician worldwide would recognise from their mirrors, and approached with his hand thrust out ready for the enthusiastic handshake, carefully hiding his reaction as he caught her scent and realised she wasn’t human.  That solved the puzzle of how a human had been accepted into the Circle, he briefly wondered what had happened to the original Brucker.

 

His smile widened to camouflage the fact that he hated her on sight.

 

Her bodyguard of vampires demanded virgins' blood, his hackles rose, but he clenched the smile into place and remained carefully bland as they began negotiating the fall of Mike Connolly and the corresponding rise of Senator Brucker.

 

oooo

 

So here he was, back in the basement again. Sodding basements, he was growing to hate the bleedin’ places. Anyway, no Izzy this time. Seemed lines had already being drawn and Vail and Izzy were on opposite sides.

 

Vail didn’t bother with niceties or mince his words. “I’ve been delegated to watch you.”

 

Spike merely shrugged his unconcern at this piece of information.

 

“A voyeur? Hope you enjoyed the ride in the elevator.”

 

“The elevator?” Vail merely nodded without interest. “I’m beyond animalistic bodily pleasures.”

 

“Huh. There’s a lot to be said for bodily pleasures. So what rocks your boat?” Spike asked, without any real interest.

 

Vail was thoughtful and then indicated his trolley of fluids and tubes.

 

“You see this?”

 

“Uh huh.”

 

“I am not immortal, but despite that I’ve outlived many other so-called immortals.”

 

He gave a thin smile, inordinately proud that he had watched so many immortals pass from the world. Of course, some had needed a helping hand….

 

“Interesting. How d’yer manage that then?”

 

Cyvus was only too happy to discuss his own ingenuity.

 

“I discovered a way of using unspent life-force. Everything has a time to die; I cut the thread early and steal the years allotted to them. They seem to find it excruciatingly painful. If you listen carefully you can still hear their screams reverberating around this room.”

 

He shivered in pleasure. Spike merely nodded, trying to tamp down the fearful shrieks that echoed in sympathy within his own memory.

 

“As they scream, their life pours into me. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever experienced, every cell explodes with it. For some reason the youngsters have the best flavour.”

 

“It sounds like taking blood.”

 

“Maybe you do understand, but it’s so much more potent than blood. An average child, who may sustain you for a few days, will keep me alive for another eighty years. Can you imagine that sort of power coursing through your body?”

 

“Incredible.”

 

“Indeed.” Vail’s eyes were watering at the thought.

 

Spike cleared his throat. “So you were saying that you’ve been assigned to spy on me?”

 

Vail immediately returned to the point of his comment with the acuity seldom seen in the very old.

 

“I’ve noticed your interest in the Fell Brethren. Let’s say I’m curious.”

 

A nod of acknowledgement, as though Spike had expected the topic to rear its head.  “Fair enough. It’s not me who has secrets to hide.”

 

The balding head tilted in curiosity and Spike continued.

 

“You’re a sorcerer right? So, tell me, when you cast your enchantments, which gods answer you?”

 

Vail regarded him with ancient eyes, unfazed by the apparent change in direction.

 

“I am favoured by many gods….”

 

“Including the Fell?”

 

“The god of the Fell prefers to keep power exclusively for his followers.”

 

“Where will you be in thirteen years, after Gordabach?”

 

“I’ve never had much interest in religion, but I believe this is the coming of the Fell messiah you’re speaking of?”

 

“Got it in one. But you’re kind of missing the point. Have you never read the prophecy, mate?”

 

Cyvus merely looked, awaiting an explanation.

 

“The Fell messiah will banish all other gods from this dimension.”

 

Cyvus eyes narrowed. That point had been carefully glossed over by the Brethren.

 

Spike continued to push it.

 

“How much immortality will you have when there’s no gods to deal with? A single lifetime at the most?”

 

That one hit home. The sorcerer was thoughtful as he quickly considered his options. He seemed to reach a conclusion casting a sly sideways look towards Spike.

 

“You’ve killed a Chosen One before?”

 

Spike was unfazed by the question.

 

“Yeah, but you know how it is for me these days, my every move watched. Gotta keep my hands clean, don’t I? Just thought I’d give you the heads up, in appreciation of the support you gave me the other day.”

 

“And I appreciate your consideration…. I could be even more appreciative.” He licked his thin lips. “I’m too old for subtlety, so tell me; can you make the child disappear if I give you a few hours when no one can pry?”

 

“Can you make the kid’s father well again?” Spike responded.

 

Cyvus waved a papery hand.

 

“It was magical anyway, the Fell aren’t the most sophisticated of demons. I can break it, don’t you worry about that, child.”

 

The word child held echoes of Angelus/Angel and it dawned on Spike that Cyvus regarded him in the light of a protégé. Family maybe….

 

“In that case….” Spike nodded his agreement, his lips curling into a humourless smile.

 

“You’re planning on the child being born before its time and then buying it with the same coin the Brethren offered?” Cyvus guessed.

 

“More or less.”

 

“The child will always be Chosen. We will never be safe unless the child dies before its thirteenth birthday.”

 

“Or lives beyond it.”

 

“There won’t be a safe place left for him. Where would you hide him for thirteen years?”

 

Spike gave a non-committal grunt. “Yeah, but as long as I hold him alive I’ll own the Brethren. What wouldn’t they do to guarantee his safety?”

 

Cyvus still looked discontent.

 

“Anyway, how’s my nomination going? Have you told them I’m a candidate?” Spike attempted to distract him.

 

“I have, to a mixed reception, as anticipated.” Vail gave a shrug. “Izzy is causing ill feeling by pushing his candidate hard. That group could be trouble. If you have their Chosen One, you’ll hold the Brethren in the palm of your hands. I’m assuming you know the Fell Brethren Grand Potentate is part of the Circle. In fact,” eyes narrowed to gleaming gimlets, “I’m guessing that somehow you know most of the members.”

 

“Maybe I could make a couple of educated guesses.”

 

Cyvus gave the laugh that squeaked like the opening of an old, un-oiled door.

 

“I’m sure you could. Be warned, however, not everyone is as trusting as I am. Some are waiting for a gesture of ultimate evil….”

 

“Yeah, like what?”

 

Thin shoulders hunched into s shrug, “I’m sure you’ll think of something.”

 

Spike said nothing. That was a sticking point and no mistake.

 

oooo

 

 

The atmosphere at the W&H offices became increasingly explosive. No one would have bees surprised if the floors had begun to heave and buckle as the powder keg they worked on top of awaited that stray spark.

 

Urgent whispers in secluded corners faded to suspicious glances at unwanted intruders. Secrets and plots were thick in the air. Hissed arguments flashed into violence. Two of Izzy’s colleagues were notable by their absence. Don had disappeared into thin air but Chey turned up later that week.

 

Dead.

 

He’d been overheard exchanging angry words with Izzy, who happened to have a cast-iron alibi for the time of Chey’s death. Consensus of opinion stated, in the cynical tone reminiscent of Christine Keeler: well he would, wouldn’t he?

 

Suddenly this was no longer an intricate plan. It was an actual play, one that was succeeding. Angel and Spike had kept their hands clean and still managed to get the first member killed. Now it became dangerous for them all.

 

If that were the only death that week they would have been quietly satisfied, but the following day an overall shit week ended with a hell of a day.  It happened so suddenly. How could so much change in the course of one terrible day?

 

She died.

 

Their girl died.

 

It was that sudden. Alive. Dead. And now everything was flying apart. Knox had made the play and Gunn had unwittingly sealed the deal.

 

It hit each of them hard, pulling out the very guts of their team. Confusion, disbelief, anger warred within them, along with the need to fix this greatest of wrongs. When all their efforts failed, that need faded to frustration, followed by a kind of dumbfounded acceptance. 

 

She’d brought them so much. Her sweet affection, wide smile, and mixture of intelligence, commonsense and compassion that was so rare in this world. Now there was a hole in their heads, where Fred used to live. Just a dark pit to be carefully skirted around, else they’d tumble into the emptiness she left behind. For such a slender girl she’d left a damned big hole.

 

Angel and Spike were helpless. There was nothing left, neither bargain to be struck nor last minute reprieve. They had failed their girl.

 

Gunn was guilt-ridden. There was no atonement for this sin.

 

When people asked why, he had no answer. To plead that he wanted to remain an educated man sounded unbelievable even to his own ears. Half a dozen years of hard work would have seen him educated. But no, he went for the swipe of the pen approach and proved its lethal power once again. His signature on a single piece of paper traded those six years for everything that had made up Fred. He could have pleaded that he didn’t know, didn’t understand, but that was crap. He’d known it would be someone. Someone who deserved better than this betrayal for his own intellectual vanity. If he ever heard another Gilbert and Sullivan it would be too soon, he despised every false memory.

 

Wesley had been with her as she faded, speaking words of love and comfort. She knew she was dying and fought against it bitterly. It was a battle she was destined to lose. He held her and wept with her, as her fevered body, heated and then slowly cooled. Her coldness leeched all human warmth from him, leaving a cavernous wasteland of glittering icicles, cruel and sharp and cutting, in the place that had once flowered in the warmth of her smile and beat to the rhythm of life.

 

She’d filled his mind almost entirely. The absence of her left him hollowed out and profoundly empty. Empty-eyed, empty-hearted, empty-souled. More of a ghost than Spike had ever been.

 

Then there was Illyria who inhabited the shell of their beautiful girl, alien in her looks and her thinking, powerful beyond their imagining. Raging against the world she had found herself trapped in and the puny body that held her essence. Wesley watched her with the deep morbidity of loss. In return, she found herself watching his reactions to her with something close to curiosity in her fathomless eyes.

 

He looked rough, with his unshaven jaw and the feverish eyes of a driven man.

 

He couldn’t stop searching for an answer. If only he just looked hard enough, long enough, in the right place, in the wrong place, then the next book, the next spell would have him snapping his fingers and saying, “I’ve got it!” She would be back by his side with her laughing eyes and razor intelligence, loving him once more.

 

The more he learnt about what had occurred, the more he despaired. Hope was packing its bags and leaving town. Yet he couldn’t stop searching, knew he would continue searching for the answer for the rest of his life.

 

Spike looked up as he entered and recognised the haunted eyes. It recalled memories of Red after she had lost Glinda…. Yeah, Tara, that had been her name, another sweet girl. Seemed like the best of humanity were being called home.

 

“Wes… Mate….”

 

“Spike. I’ve changed my mind. Who am I to deny anyone whatever chance of happiness they might have? And if it goes wrong, well at least you know you tried.”

 

Spike frowned.

 

“Uh. Got me at a loss, Percy.  What yer talking about?”

 

“Angel and his soul.”

 

Spike regarded him intently. A thread of worry drew a line between his eyebrows.

 

“You said it was too dangerous. That there was a chance that Angelus might return….”

 

“The plan is dependent on him returning.”

 

Spike’s jaw fell open as he gaped in shock.

 

“Bloody hell! Are you completely addled? You’ve met him, ain’t yer?”

 

“Yes, of course I have, and maybe I am a little crazy. I think you have to be to live in this world.”

 

“Supposing he tries to kill you all, or drags the world into hell?”

 

“There is that,” Wesley answered, straightening his glasses. “I’m allowing you this information because, frankly? I’m not sure if I even care anymore. One day you might have to join me, watching the shell of the person you love.  Perhaps I don’t want to help you. Maybe it’s punishment for allowing her to die.”

 

Spike blinked.

 

“We didn’t…”

 

“She’s dead, isn’t she?”

 

He felt his culpability deeply, whilst acknowledging that there was nothing else he could have done.

 

“To save her would have meant we slaughtered thousands. What the fuck were we supposed to do?”

 

His anguished voice pleaded for the human to understand, but Wesley’s eyes remained cold.

 

“And if it had been Angel and not her?”

 

“I’d have made the same choice,” Spike replied. However, he wasn’t altogether sure if that was true, maybe he’d damn the world to hell before allowing Angel to leave him again, and he sent up a prayer to whoever listened to ensouled vampires to save him from ever making such a decision.

 

“So, Angel…. What do I have to do?”

 

“It’s easy really.  Give him perfect happiness and bring back Angelus.”

 

“I hope there’s a bit more to the plan than that. It seems a little short on results.”

 

“I never got the chance to work out the details, but my thought was that happiness depends on the perceptions of the person doing the re-souling spell. The gypsies and Willow both had traditional views of happiness. Supposing Angelus was re-souled by something evil and its very definition of happiness was so outside the boundaries that Angel would never achieve it? Murdering children, destroying worlds, whatever, as long as it’s not saving the world and making love with someone he’s in love with.”

 

“Would it work?”

 

“I believe so. The first time he lost his soul by making love to the girl of his dreams. The second time, when the shaman gave him his false moment of perfect happiness, the rules had subtly changed. He saved the world, became reconciled with all his friends and family, as well as making love with someone he cared for. Because it was no longer a gypsy curse, it was Willow’s curse. She had spent years helping Buffy fight evil and save the world. Her idea of perfect happiness was slightly more sophisticated. Take that one step further and have the spell performed by someone with a totally alien idea of happiness and you see the possibilities?”

 

“How will I get someone evil to re-soul Angelus?”

 

“I’ve given you the broad outline. It’s up to you what you do with it.”

 

“I won’t be able to tell Angel. Angelus would have to think I wanted him back. Even so, he still might kill me.”

 

“Yes, it’s a definite possibility. I’ll leave it in your hands.”

 

“Bugger you, Watcher! Why the hell did you have to tell me?”

 

“To give you a chance I’m never going to have,” he replied with quiet dignity, and left Spike alone with his dilemma.

 

The more Spike thought about it, the more unworkable it became.  Hell, how was he supposed to give Angel perfection? He’d have to be reconciled with his friends, feel like he was winning the fight against evil and then finally the small point of actually loving Spike enough to reach the final high. Then if he did achieve all this, he would have the equally impossible task of dealing with Angelus.  Whichever way he turned it, it was impossible. Not only impossible, but probably one of the most dangerous, riskiest gambles he’d ever attempted.

 

Although, that wouldn’t necessarily have daunted him, he was never one to turn down a challenge. Nevertheless, one consideration far outweighed everything else. It would mean betraying Angel. It was one thing to knock him out for a few minutes, but this would be unforgivable, and frankly, he couldn’t do it. Wouldn’t do it, not even to give Angel his most wished for desire.

 

But a tiny part of his brain called him on his decision and mocked his altruism, suggesting the reason he refused was that Angel would then have his choice of lovers and the world and his dog knew that in this situation Spike would be very far from his first choice.

 

Yet he couldn’t stop thinking about Wesley’s theory.

 

It seemed to him that there was an almighty flaw in it. The Willow who had re-souled Angel the second time had been a vastly different person to the naive girl attempting her first spell. She had tasted power, caused pain and death, and emerged the other side. Who knew what defined her version of perfect happiness?

 

Ah well. Since he wasn’t going to do it anyway, he guessed it wasn’t worth worrying about.

 

oooo

 

Izzy’s eyes gleamed with approval.

 

“A little birdie has told me you arranged the death of the girl, one of your own. The Circle is impressed.”

 

“Huh. Guess we have a talkative little bird. It told me you had a hand in the death of Chey and the disappearance of Don.…”

 

“Touché. I take your point and one doesn’t like to boast….” Izzy’s grin hid his anxiety, if the Circle believed he had killed them then there would be repercussions. He shivered slightly, who would believe his innocence when he sometimes doubted it himself? Someone was setting him up, but for what exactly?

 

“Come with me you might be interested in this. It spells the end of all your problems. Well, one little problem in particular.”

 

Angel followed curiously, as Izzy sprang up the stairs. They leant together on the chrome balustrade. Angel started fidgeting, Spike would be due in soon and he wanted to be able to watch him from the privacy of his office. Eventually his restlessness won out.

 

“Ok. I’ve played this game, whatever it is, but now I have work to do.”

 

“Hush. Here he is.” Izzy’s eyes were bright, his tongue almost lolling out of his mouth with anticipation.

 

Angel watched as Spike pushed through the doors and swept in. His guts clenched with anxiety.

 

“What? What have you done?” His voice was almost lost in fear, emerging in a low whisper.

 

Spike was directly beneath them.

 

“See that man over there?” He pointed out a small, plump man who was sweating profusely as he approached Spike. “Watch him carefully. He didn’t need much persuading, I can tell you. Seems he was next in line for the Special Projects post, before it was given to the upstart.”

 

Angel’s fear only increased, he could have sworn he heard echoes of his dead heart pounding in his ears.

 

Izzy didn’t notice Angel’s reaction and blithely continued, “Remember that poison that nearly killed you a few years back?”

 

The poison? Spike was going to be poisoned?

 

However, the man had passed him, and Angel began to relax, seemed the guy had lost his bottle. Then he noticed Izzy straining forward, eyes intent on the scene below.  He also returned his gaze to the unfolding tableau and realised that the man had immediately turned, a small pipe raised to his lips. He was within feet of Spike, he couldn’t miss.

 

Angel reacted quickly, grabbing Izzy and jumping, landing between Spike and the man.

 

Izzy stumbled and fell, Spike went reeling and the man allowed the emptied blowpipe to drop from his lips. Angel’s fist smashed into the side of his smug, fat head. The punch flung the man backwards and he landed like a dead weight against the far wall.

 

Spike was lying motionless on the floor and Izzy was shouting something.

 

Angel had seen Spike injured before, but before he had been his childe, now he was his lover. And that made all the difference in the world.

 

This poison meant death, he’d tasted it himself and he could taste it again, like ashes in his mouth. His blood was curdling and his soul shrinking away in fear.

 

Perception faded to a pinpoint, he heard and saw nothing except Spike. Every sense was focused on the body lying on the tiled ground. He was in a bubble of his own where all that existed was Spike and the hollow roar in his ears. In slow motion, he walked towards the prone figure and the whole world waited the next moments with baited breath.

 

“Spike?”

 

(An echo sounded through the years, a girl’s voice…. “Tara?”)

 

He wasn’t dust. He was still alive. He searched for hope in the situation.

 

He could beat this poison. It just needed slayer’s blood. Buffy would fly in for him. Buffy was too far away. There were other slayers. But none would voluntarily give blood to a vampire. He would kidnap one. They were strong and well organised. They’d probably stake him. Maybe that wouldn’t be so bad….

 

So his brain skittered over the problem as he took his steps towards Spike.

 

There was blood staining the pristine white of his shirt.

 

(“Your shirt…”)

 

Angel knelt next to him, cradling his head in his lap, stroking his brow.

 

“Spike? William? Stay with me, stay with me Will. Please…”

 

(“Tara? Come, on baby. Get up. Please. Tara...”)

 

Angel’s hand withdrew from the back of Spike’s neck. It was red with blood. He stared at it, almost with incomprehension. Angel could see no way out. He could almost feel the pain of the poison moving like red heat through his own veins.

 

He gently laid Spike back down and turned to the people who watched. Words were beginning to penetrate his brain. “Assassination” was being whispered around the building and bouncing off the walls. It was threaded through with grief, fear, triumph. His eyes flecked with gold, as he turned to Izzy who was watching from the floor, his leg twisted under him, unable to move as Angel stalked towards him.

 

“He was my childe. You understand that. Mine.” Angel’s words were almost conversational, his face was death.

 

“What… what are you doing?” Izzy whispered, his brow furrowed and blank eyes sparked with fear.

 

“Hush.” Angel whispered and crouched next to him.

 

(He was babbling in fear. “Shhh,” her voice soothed, but her eyes were black.)

 

“I’m sorry… just … no! Please.” Izzy’s voice rose as he recognised the icy gaze of death.

 

(Warren cried out in terror, “Hey, hey. I’m sorry, all right? I’m sorry!”)

 

Then Izzy moved a hand and revealed the small black feathered dart on the side of his face. Maybe in all the commotion he hadn’t registered it was there.

 

Angel stared hardly daring to believe.

 

“So tell me, what affect would the poison have on you? The same as on Spike? Answer me.”

 

Izzy was gazing in fear. Why weren’t the Circle, the Senior Partners stopping this fiasco? The answer came to him; he was being retired.

 

“Similar but it works more slowly,” he answered in a deadened voice.

 

“Would you find it painful?”

 

Izzy nodded.

 

“Good.”

 

“Why? Why!” Izzy slowly brought his hand back to the sting in his cheek and plucked away the dart. Then he began screaming.

 

Angel looked around at the gathered faces.

 

“I want held him locked next to Pavaynne and held there until the poison kills him. I want real time pictures of his face displayed on all monitors. Someone see to it.”

 

There was a murmured reaction, carefully muted; eyes that refused to linger on Angel for fear his wrath would turn on them.

 

Spike lay unconscious, knocked flying by their arrival. Angel realised that the blood was probably from where he’d crashed to the floor, cracking his head on the hard marble.

 

Angel picked him up and looked down at the stark print of his hand on the floor, inked red with his childe’s blood. They had tried to kill his childe. The thought froze him to the marrow; he could feel the ice crackling through his body as though a finger of frost was following the track of his veins

 

“When this mess is cleaned up I want that handprint left.” He looked around. “Do you all understand?”

 

They understood.  The screaming image of Izzy and the bloody print were to be macabre reminders that interfering with Angel and his childe carried its risks.

 

“Boss?” Harmony approached cautiously. “What do you want me to do with him?”

 

Angel looked towards the unconscious man. Nothing more than a tool, like the dart the man had attempted to use to send Spike into an agonising death. Angel shuddered. So close. So fragile. Happiness was so damned fragile. He stared at the human who had tried to take away his only light in this grim world.

 

(“It ripped her insides out ... took her light away. From me. From the world.”)

 

“Put him in a holding cell until I’m ready to deal with him.”

 

Harmony displayed her efficiency by lugging the man over her shoulder and dealing with the matter personally.

 

(Willow stared at the skinned body. She thought it would help, make her happy, but happiness died with her lover and soul mate).

 

oooo

 

Spike was stirring.

 

“What the fuck just happened?” he muttered, one hand moving to his bloodied head.

 

“Izzy tried to have you killed.”

 

Angel sounded remote and unlike his usual self. Spike remembered being knocked from behind, sprawling to the floor and then nothing.

 

“Huh. Guess that’s good in a way. The plan….” He stopped suddenly realising his tongue was moving on without his brain.

 

“It’s alright. The plan kinda got blown out of the water just now. I jumped the balcony trying to reach you. Knocked out a human and Izzy is kind of busy with the dying.”

 

Spike looked in query.

 

“Seemed like I missed a pretty neat party.”

 

“I lost it and claimed you in front of everyone. The plan is dead. They all know that you’re the only thing that matters to me.”

 

That seemed to come as news to Spike.

 

“You know that don’t you?” Angel frowned.

 

Spike knew it was the shock of the near miss speaking and turned his head away. “You were about to leave me….”

 

“I was?”

 

That seemed to come as news to Angel.

 

“You said that it ain’t working between us.”

 

“I did?”

 

“Yeah, you did.”

 

“If I knew what you were talking about I’d deny it. I remember telling you that I loved you. You know how many people I’ve said that to? Two.”

 

“The other was Buffy?”

 

Angel nodded.

 

“You left her.” Spike felt satisfied that his point had been proven.

 

“That was different. She was sunshine and blue skies. Shit! I never belonged there! I belong to darkness and shadows. I belong with you. You make it bearable. Fuck Will! Some days you make it feel like sunshine.”

 

Spike blinked in disbelief.

 

“After we kind of shagged, you said it wasn’t gonna work….”

 

“I said the curse was too close and having sex wasn’t going to be possible!”

 

“You did?”

 

“Is that why you were so upset about Nina? You thought it was over?”

 

Spike said nothing and that was all the answer that Angel needed.

 

“It will never be over between us. You hear? There’s nothing you could say or do that would make me leave you. You can walk away, you can fucking burn up and die and it’ll still never be over between us!”

 

This brought back the previous half hour to Angel’s mind.

 

“I thought you were gone.” His voice tailed off as he relived those minutes. “I thought you were gone and I’d have given the world to hold you one more time. Given my life, my soul to see your eyes open. Why didn’t you know how much I cared?”

 

Suddenly Angel’s arms were wrapped gently around him, face buried in his neck.

 

Spike blinked again, trying to understand this sudden turnabout, and slowly one hand came to rest against Angel’s back

 

“Hey… hush, Pet. I’m here. I’m here, Luv.”

 

“Stay here with me tonight. I need to have you near, I need to hold you. I got it so wrong. Give me a chance to show you how much I care?”

 

“The curse….”

 

“I don’t mean sex. I guess I’m talking about love.”

 

“I dunno….” Spike was confused. He’d never been the recipient of love, no strings attached. Well, not since his Mum….

 

“Just lay with me, let me tell you all the ways I love you. All the ways you’re beautiful,” Angel whispered.

 

Spike started to smile.

 

“You sure? You don’t do the talking thing very well, Pet.”

 

“Then I’ll learn. I nearly lost you and you’d never have known how I felt. If I lose you tomorrow then I’m making sure you know that you’re the most precious thing in this damned world.”

 

He pulled Spike close.

 

Intimate words fell between them like sweet rain, soaked up and swallowed as it flooded through desperately parched wasteland, bringing life to the needy desert, and something precious sprang into existence. Next to Love grew Trust, as strong as the English oak, and in its branches, Belief began to entwine itself.

 

The words might never be repeated again, but it didn’t matter because Spike would remember them for his remaining days.

 

(She yearned to see her lover one more time, ached to tell her all the truths she had never shared, to hold her the whole night. Willow knew that such perfect happiness could never be hers. Tara was dead and never coming back).

 

Angel fell asleep with his lover cradled within the protective circle of his arms. His soul mate who he thought was lost.

 

Jerked into wakefulness by Angel’s restlessness, Spike laid a hand on his shoulder. He appeared to be in pain.

 

Angel opened his eyes wide and his agony curled in the darkness.

 

“Spike…!”

 

His eyes squeezed shut as though trying to fight some internal demon.

 

Spike could only watch in horror. He left the room, leant against a wall and slowly slid to the floor, desperately trying to make sense of what was happening. He shook his head in disbelief and reached for his phone.

 

When he returned Angel was still in the bed, his face scrunched in pain. His hands were clenching at the bars of the headboard, muscles straining and frozen in rictus, as his body arched and spasmed.

 

Spike sat in the chair in the corner of the room and watched. He lit up a cigarette and could only wait.

 

Angel appeared to see him and stared at him piteously from darkened eyes. Spike wanted to help him, or that being impossible, just wanted to close his eyes to the agony, but instead his gaze remained steady. He forced himself to watch all that his sire was going through, whilst kaleidoscope thoughts gradually resolved into clarity.

 

He thought about the curse, considered Willow and what would have made her happiness perfect.

 

He now knew more than words, how much Angel cared, and was humbled that he could ever be Angel’s perfection. Spike felt his body ripping with grief and rage, needing to scream out in protest at this turn of events, cursing his sire’s taciturn nature and his own lack of faith, but refusing to give in, knowing he had to stay strong for Angel’s sake.

 

Because it was too late. All choice had been taken from him and he was lost between grief, rage and a fluttering in his stomach that might have been anticipation.

 

Brown eyes opened and even in the darkness, they gleamed with joy.

 

“Angelus.”

 

Attention swivelled to the seated figure of his Childe.

 

“Will,” he smiled.

 

 

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