The Relevance of Spike

 

Part 2

 

The dream was so vivid that scents and sounds followed him into his wakening and when he opened his eyes and spotted the tousled blonde head and felt the hard lines of the linen-shrouded body beneath the palm of his hand, for a moment he imagined that he was still in the midst of his dream… until anomalies began to bombard the periphery of his brain.

Didn't William have tousled brown hair? Surely light shouldn't be streaking through the shutters in such a way? Darla was particular about such things. He blinked in bemusement.

A soreness in his chest and itchy, uncomfortable bandaging, led him painfully back to the present. But his bemusement only intensified. He blinked and slowly opened his eyes. Definitely awake. And still in bed with Spike...

That shocked his brain to a standstill.

He was lying on the bed beside Spike, one arm slung around his childe... His body thrummed with tension and his sleep-befuddled brain was finding it difficult to process thought. His fingers twitched slightly as if confirming the solid reality.

Somewhere his rational mind was telling him to rise, remove himself from an awkward situation before blue eyes opened and rained cold derision down upon him. But the dream had caused old emotions to stir from the depth of their slumber and enfold him in a comfortable blanket of lethargy.

Instead of rising, he lay like a big cat, stretched bonelessly to the morning rays of the African sun. He closed his eyes, luxuriating in the illicit pleasure of another body pressed up against his own, a small self-indulgence in a life that held so few intimacies. He revelled in the warm feeling of awakening to the touch of a familiar body, and half wished that those mocking eyes would remain veiled and that disdainful, articulate tongue would stay dumb for just a while longer.

His mind wandered lazily back over his dream, vicariously enjoying it again, tumbling images of Darla and Dru with the hot, sticky scent of passion that clothed them like a second skin, hearing pleading lips and breathy moans and watching in fascination as bodies arched hungrily to his touch. And Spike in the background, as he always had been. Never directly touched by Angelus, but always there, in his eye-line or impinging on his senses, his presence as much a part of the scene as soft curves and delicate feminine hands.

Except sometimes they had touched, hadn't they?

Usually Angelus would awake nuzzled into Darla, and William would be wrapped around Dru, but more rarely he and William would blink open sleepy eyes and he would find himself floating in clear, blue pools, whilst William was caught in the depths of rich, peat earth… momentarily trapped by something in the other's gaze, physically held by heavy limbs, woven together in sleep.

Angel shifted uncomfortably and unconsciously nudged against Spike. The touch sparked a leap of pleasure, a frisson of excitement that danced its way though his body like a shimmering electrical current flowing through his veins, heating his cold flesh and lighting up his senses, fine hairs on his body standing erect in shivering anticipation.

He couldn't help himself, it had been too long. Another small thrust. A groan escaped his mouth, parting his lips so that he could taste the scent of his own desire playing upon his tongue. Aberrant thoughts streaked through his head... He could allow the sheets to slide back exposing an expanse of translucent, white skin… he
could tease his fingers over the snaking spine, tracing each spur from the short hairs at the nape of his smooth neck, down to the small bones at the base... He could…

But no, he couldn't! Jeez this was Spike, not just some unresisting body conveniently placed at his disposal. Spike, who was still unconscious from injuries he'd received saving Angel's life. He mentally stumbled at the thought. Spike had saved him. His childe deserved more consideration than this casual, carnal misuse by Angel's starved, needy body.

He could still remember William's horrified response when awaking to a tangle of legs and arms and the press of enticingly hard bodies. The fearful fledgling had almost fallen over himself to scramble
away. A reaction that used to infuriate Angelus, his baleful eyes following the fleeing figure. Thinking back on those memories he had the grace to smile at the arrogance of the demon and his assumption that all who met him would desire him. Angelus had been so certain of William, but somehow the spark of their first meeting had been doused by the chilly realism of the fear and the fury in each of these awakenings.

The truth was that Spike would never consciously consent to this attention and guilt reached out with grasping claws, holding him tight and slicing into his conscience. Pleasure drained and wilted and all that was left was a lingering sense of shame. The flash of desire had been purely about his own need, and he was mortified by his spiralling lack of control that had allowed his thoughts to have wandered so far astray. His need was weakening him. Maybe it was time he called Nina. It wouldn't be perfect, but then again, he didn't do perfect anymore.

Still he lay there. A small sigh escaped him. He should move. This was Spike, and they hated each other…. No that was yesterday's thoughts. He wasn't quite sure what he felt. Spike's distressed cries still rang loudly in his ears, and his own rage at the human who had hurt his childe, threatened to undermine his precarious inner balance. Maybe there was something here to be salvaged. Maybe Spike thought so too. It seemed he'd been making an effort. Angel sighed again. Could be too late, he'd done a good job of pushing the boy away.

Spike appeared to be stirring and Angel hastily rolled away into the protective isolation of the cold, empty space on his own side of the bed. A whimper of pain caused him to flinch in sympathy. He slowly reached out and put a comforting hand on Spike's naked shoulder. The other vampire stiffened to the touch. Angel could sense his confusion, and almost smiled, delighted to find that he wasn't the only one completely baffled by this situation.


oooo


He awoke to a world of agony, the throb of deep injuries and the sting of abrasions and lacerations. He opened his eyes and squinted in the brightness. Even in his muzzy, pain-filled state he could recognise that there was something seriously off here. Lethal sunlight was cutting through the air and lighting up the far wall. A wall he thought he kind of recognised. He sniffed at the air, his senses became saturated with the presence of his Sire, and when a cool hand touched his shoulder, it shocked him into rigidity. His head whisked around, eyes anime-wide.

"What the fuck…?"

"Yeah. Uh." So much for a comforting hand, the years dropped away and there was William, ready to bolt again. "You weren't doing too well last night, that's why you're…"

He gestured around his room.

"Oh."

Yeah. Spike remembered last night. He remembered the agony that had blasted through him, when he thought he'd lost… His mind veered sharply from the thought and he closed his eyes as something twisted and coiled in his gut. One hundred and twenty-five years of circling around his Sire had almost ended.

He might hate the frigging Poof but he was his Poof.

Brown eyes registered concern as shivers of distress ran through the slim body. He almost reached out again and then halted not altogether sure if his touches were welcome or not.

"Ok?"

Spike nodded and gradually memories of the rest of the night's activities flooded back. Anger and hurt ripped through him like bullets.

"The git shot me, left me for demon food."

"I know."

Spike swallowed and took a calming breath.

"Thought you were a goner, mate. You 'k?"

"Yeah. It exploded into pieces just as it was about to feed on
me."

Again, a moment to quell something inside that made him feel weak and sick in the stomach. Probably just some bad blood. He searched for attitude and words that would disguise his debility.

"Percy was right. Heat did make the bugger uncomfortable."

Angel gave a rueful smile.

"Wesley is the master of the understatement."

Spike nodded.

"Yeah. That's us English for you. Reticent to the point of retarded."

"I wouldn't call you reticent."

"Just retarded?"

A cocked eyebrow and a hint of an answering smile as they both attempted to find some solid ground in this shifting swamp of emotion they'd found themselves mired in.

Obviously Angel was there, his voice, his scent, his overpowering presence, infected his senses, but Spike was a visual person. He needed Angel in his line of vision. Determinedly he levered himself up, meaning to flip on to his side facing Angel, but his legs began screaming at him in protest and refused to quieten down until he flopped back to his pillows in defeated exhaustion.

"Crap."

"Feeling weak? Not exactly surprising, you took a couple of bad hits. I've got blood, give me a sec."

Angel leapt up and slipped into his sweats. Spike's eyes followed the movement. This was sort of worrying. Angel's face had appeared sympathetic and now there was blood and pleasantness. Spike waited patiently for the other shoe to drop and provide the punch-line to this little scene.

A minute rang out on the microwave and then he was back, hesitantly reaching out to hand over a blood bag. This felt seriously weird to both of them. They'd never thought about what might be left once the shouting and fighting ended. It seemed almost…domesticated. He and Spike had never been domesticated. It was unnerving.

Spike silently took the blood, changing faces and tearing into the bag, gulping half of it down before appreciating what he had.

"Human?"

"Yeah, it was Fred."

His brow creased, he still wasn't with the plot.

"Fred opened a vein for us?"

"No," Angel replied patiently, "I asked for blood, she came back with this."

"Huh. Maybe she caught up with the wanker and opened his
vein."

"Don't blame him, Spike."

Incredulity distorted the features even of his gameface. Was a bit of righteous indignation from his own sire too much to ask for? Oh well, bollocks to it. Good to know that he was still as irrelevant as ever. He threw the blood bag to one side and reached back for his humanity.

"Don't blame him? Buggering hell, Peaches, it was his fault! You know me, yeah? All for seeing the good in people and giving second chances, but the little shit was walking the streets, packing a gun. I was trying to help and he shot me! You could have hurt him a little bit."

"I was paralysed and then I had to see to you…" Angel stopped. That wasn't what he meant to say and he hastily
corrected himself. "There are some lines we can't cross. We don't kill humans."

He lowered his eyes so that Spike wouldn't see his hypocrisy. Even now, he could feel last night's chilling rage creep over him again.

"But if I was going on a killing spree, he'd be the one I'd start with."

The admission was cold and emotionless. It pacified Spike a little, but a lingering sense of injury remained and mixed smoothly with his physical pain and mental confusion to produce a bubbling cocktail of self-pity.

"They have bleedin' souls, don't they? Why are they like
that?"

God, he despised that whiny edge to his voice, but couldn't prevent it slipping out.

"I don't know." Angel gave his question some serious consideration. "I guess some people are arrogant. They think the world is made for them and don't realise that they're dust before we've even turned around once. Others simply don't know how to live in a world as bleak as this."

"Tell me, who the fuck does? Gotta ignore it all, else yer just go bad. Or go mad. And hey, I've tried both."

Spike lay back on the pillows and lowered his eyelids to prevent Angel from reading his eyes.

"Or you try to fix it."

"Knowing you never can? Jesus. I don't know if I can do it anymore."

Angel examined the shuttered face and reflected how little he really knew of this man. He'd known the demon, but this mixture of resignation and despondency was something different from the boisterous fighter who would never stay down. For Spike to reveal such vulnerability was fascinating to Angel. It made him feel protective and powerful. For the first time in a long time he began to feel strong.

"It's not all dark."

Spike looked pointedly down to where his splinted legs lay hidden by the covers before replying.

"Yeah, right. So where is the light? Where is the goodness? Cus you know, I have bloody good eyesight and I'm just not seeing it."

"In my experience it turns up in unexpected places." He avoided looking at Spike. "Or you go out and shed your own light."

Spike shook his head and reached for a cigarette, the only light he wanted at the moment was the reliable flame of his lighter.

"I've shed light and shall I tell you the funny thing about the light, Mate? It's not a romantic drift into ashes. It makes your eyeballs boil and explode in their sockets, and skin blister and bubble, before melting away in excruciating, screaming agony. See, I burnt up in the light and I don't want to do it again. I'm
tired and I'm not that strong, I'm not like you."

The admission seemed to shock them both. Where the hell were his fags and lighter? His coat was lying on a chair by the side of the bed. His mangled fingers fumbled painfully towards it. This display of vulnerability nauseated Spike and to reveal it to Angel of all people… but the self-pity was welling up inside and somehow he couldn't contain it, couldn't prevent it gushing out in a self-indulgent torrent of pain and angst.

"You think I'm strong?" Angel asked.

"Yeah. You're…I dunno…self contained, I suppose. But I…well…I need people."

He took a deep breath and that more than his words made Angel realise how truly injured the other vampire was.

Spike had worked hard all his unlife to bury William, but humanity proved tenacious, taking advantage of his incapacity, to claw its way back out of the grave, through the covering dank earth and emerge blinking in the light of the bright blue-sky eyes.

"Yeah, I need people. But what's the sodding point? They
can't give me what I need; we touch briefly and rebound off each
other. We make love together but orgasm alone and it's not
enough. Never enough."

It hurt to see Spike like this. A reflection of himself, spouting all
his fears, airing them, making them real. He dealt with them as
harshly as he dealt with his own.

"Sheesh. How old are you? So you're alone? Like every other damned thing. We walk side by side for a while but always alone. You call me strong?" Angel shook his head. "I'm as disconnected as you find. Fuck, can't you see? I'm turning to stone here. I'm a massive gargoyle sitting on the corner of the church roof."

"Huh. I get that. The teeth, those ugly gargoyle features. Yeah, I see it all." Spike mocked, but there was no edge, it was just something to say, his tongue running on its habitual path.

"I'm a gargoyle, something ugly and evil and I'll always be standing somewhere just outside grace. I'm turning to stone here. I'm not even looking for connection anymore. I just go out and save people, hardly knowing if what I do is right or wrong or indifferent."

Angel turned his head. All his subterranean doubts and fears that poisoned him each day were seeping into the harsh light of day. He reflected that maybe this was why they hid behind harsh words and violence. Because what lay beneath was too disturbing to be brought to the surface. He armoured himself against the sneer he was sure would be forming on mocking lips.

Spike stopped his fumbling for fags that he wouldn't be able to hold or allowed to smoke even if he could find the bloody things. He looked at Angel's downcast face and sighed, reaching out, before remembering that his fingers were swathed in bandages, instead he rested the exposed skin on the back of his hand gently against his sire's forearm.

"See? Connection. And not stone but flesh. Yeah, cold and hard…right, ok a little stone-like."

Angel moved away from the critical touch. Yet he was oddly moved by it. The words and the touch lanced the wound and began to bleed the toxic substance from his soul. He guiltily contrasted it with his own reaction when dealing with Spike's fears. Spike watched the changing expressions passing like shadows over the broad face, and shook his head in mock sorrow.

"You're a sad wanker."

Angel said nothing but privately agreed.

"So we don the capes and tights and damn the consequences. We save evil toerags like that kid because we don't know what else to do or how else to fight."

And they looked at each other as though this is what it came down to. The only thing left that meant anything to either of them.

Except Spike had plans sitting in his briefcase. He felt too weary and disheartened to mention them again, not wanting to dispel the easy intimacy they were discovering with intrusive memories of yesterday.

And Angel had the remnants of a vision in his head, guiding him towards a destruction he couldn't yet visualise.

Angel mustered a half smile. He handed over another blood bag.

"Yeah, that's what we do. So come on, Boy Wonder, drink up."

This remark roused Spike to a semblance of sputtering normality.

"You must be joking! No way are you Batman. Well yeah the physique and ok, the saving people and obviously the whole broodboy thing yer both got going on… Anyway, I'm definitely nobody's sidekick. Besides, that boy is a complete fuck up…what? What??"

Angel resisted a smirk but Spike seemed to see it anyway.

"Oh, sod off."

He closed his eyes, sensing that they needed the banter, but they both knew it would be a while before he could pull on the tights again, figuratively speaking. Still he wasn't going to let that fucking human make a victim of him. After all, he'd survived Angelus, the Slayer and the sodding Initiative.

Besides which, he was the Big Bad. He didn't know how to stay down. So he gave in to the comfort of the familiar, returning to a favourite game, and surely the favourite of every downtrodden, oppressed childe. He personally called it `winding up the ponce' and his gaze turned to one of sudden suspicion, as he raised a questioning eyebrow.

"So, how come I'm naked and you're in bed with me?"

"You were delirious, flung yourself onto me and begged me not to leave."

Oh, this wasn't the way the game went. He looked at Angel's disapproving face and felt a quiver of uncertainty.

"I bloody well did not…did I?"

"Yeah. Then you started slowly taking off your clothes. Jeez, you were so embarrassing."

Spike looked sufficiently doubtful that Angel had to frown to prevent a laugh spilling from his lips.

"So I stood there and performed a striptease?"

"Well obviously not standing… not with those legs. You were sitting down."

"With blood oozing from my wounds on to your pristine bedspread? Yeah, like you'd ever allow that to happen! Then my fingers flicked nimbly over my buttons?"

He waved his bandaged hands in Angel's face and suddenly his eyes crinkled with genuine amusement.

"You're a git!"

An uncharacteristic grin lightened Angel's face to something resembling boyish. Spike watched it emerge and carefully stored it away with his other treasures.

"Had you going though."

"Not for a second. Not for a millisecond."

"Whatever you say, Spike."

It felt good to fall into their old bickering patterns. It was hot coffee, old clothes and slippers on Sunday afternoon. Except something was missing. Angel thought about it and realised it was as if the coffee had lost its bitterness, becoming richer, stronger with almost a hint of sweetness.

"So how long am I gonna be like this?"

"Obnoxious and irritating? Can't see any immediate changes in sight."

Spike raised his eyebrows.

"Legs, Angel. And who's being obnoxious and irritating now? Someone in this room, and sure as God made little, maggot-ridden apples, it ain't me."

Angel fiddled uneasily with the bed cover.

"Might be a while. Five days, a week? You won't be able to move for a few days."

He cast Spike an oblique look from under his lashes and said as casually as possible,

"Probably best if you stayed here."

"Here?"

"Look. I know we're not exactly best buddies but I appreciate what you did for me, ok? You'll need looking after. I owe you. So stay."

"How long for?"

"Until you're well."

"Christ, I'm bored already."

"I'll get you some books."

Spike's face said it all.

"Not books… then what?"

"TV, DVD player, gamecube, ummm…magazines…uh…"

His gaze turned up towards the ceiling, white teeth worrying at his lower lip as his mind whizzed over everything he'd ever wanted and never got around to stealing. He turned back to Angel and wondered how far he could push this…

"Oh and one of those Ipod thingies, the one that holds photos and a laptop and…"

Angel stared in astonishment at his enthusiasm and wondered who he wanted to keep photographs of. Hell, if money was all it took to make Spike look at him like this he'd probably have done this years ago… or maybe not. He admitted a lot had changed in twenty-four hours. And he wasn't talking about Spike's legs.

"I know I owe you. No need to think of everything at once. Whatever you want Spike."

"Keira Knightley?"

"Too young for you. Would have thought Pamela Anderson would be more your type. Hot, attractive, intell…hot."

"If I wanted a blow-up doll I'd go down to Harry's. Too young? S'pose I'd better choose Depp then."

His eyes were drooping and his voice little more than a mumble. His wrangling was beginning to lose its coherence and Angel could have kicked himself. He went to the bathroom and came out with a bottle of pills.

"Take these. They're what I use." He handed over a couple of tablets, which Spike swallowed without demur, quickly returning to blissful slumber.

Angel was feeling pretty good. He had exposed the festering sores that had been oozing their darkness into his psyche for so long. They had been brought into the light and scoured clean by abrasive words and a gentle touch. Although, still raw, some of the poison that leeched into his system was draining away. He felt… cleansed.

He removed his bandage and was pleased to find that physically too, he had almost healed. He headed for the shower and for the first time since joining Wolfram & Hart he felt clean inside and out. He felt invigorated.

This mood lasted until he entered the elevator, where his shoulders sagged at the thought of facing another Wolfram & Hart day. By the time he exited a heavy frown had settled on his face. Sitting in his office he stared out into the main lobby. Oh shit. Gunn was being molested by some demon. Just another day at the edifice of evil.

He raced out, his sword quivering against what might possibly pass as the demon's neck when he heard Gunn's shout of alarm.

"Don't kill him! He's a client, Angel!"

The blade had just nicked the demon and Angel watched in disbelief as it fell writhing to the floor.

"I hardly touched him…" Angel told the ring of accusatory faces.

"I don't think he's hurt…" Gunn replied, giving Angel a slightly amused look.

Wesley sauntered over.

"How interesting…"

"Interesting?"

Wesley and Gunn exchanged looks. Gunn gave a croaky cough that did nothing to disguise his "You tell him." words.

Angel's frown deepened.

"Tell me what?"

"Well it's a peculiarity of the Tsrt demon. They're a little like the preying mantis in that the male is killed during mating. So the poor creatures' orgasm is stimulated by imminent death, as you can imagine they only normally have one in a lifetime…"

Angel looked with mounting horror at the creature still convulsing on the floor.

"He's… I…?"

Wesley nodded.

"We're either going to have clients queuing out the door for
your services or he's going to sue us for interfering with their
sacred mating ritual."

"I didn't interfere with him!" Angel denied quickly.

Gunn tried to control his own smirk as Angel's gaze swept to him, but as he glanced at the panting demon he couldn't help remarking...

"Well, if Angel gave me a happy like that I wouldn't sue." His amusement dropped as he reassessed his words and turned an anxious gaze to Angel's bewildered face. "Uh… not that I want a happy like that from you, just a figure of speech. You got that, right?"

Angel looked around, absolutely certain that everyone was laughing like hyenas behind their masks of sobriety. No one there doubted that Angel was a predator. The glare of his anger caught them and they were held frozen by the killer lurking in his eyes. No laughter, no response, not a twitch. So there was nobody he could turn on or growl his wrath at. He found himself looking automatically for the leather-clad shadow, smirking at him from a corner. He had angry words piled up in his throat waiting to tumble forth. But there was no one there and instead he had to swallow them down, an added pressure on the explosive rage building inside.

He straightened up.

"If anyone needs me I'll be in my office."

After that little incident the day went rapidly down hill. His head was throbbing and it did no good to tell himself that vampires did not get headaches; it didn't believe him and refused to budge. By the afternoon even his friends were avoiding him.

It was with an enormous sense of relief that he entered the elevator at the end of the day. Away from his office, away from the people. Angel discovered that he was actually looking forward to returning to his penthouse. A presence in the apartment, even one as irritating as Spike, turned it into something other than a place to lay his head. Some of the tension left his shoulders and his headache began to lift.

Spike was sleeping. Angel clattered around. Still he slept. He slammed the bathroom door, but not even a flicker. He went to heat some blood and accidentally sent a cup smashing to the ground.

"Hey? Sorry, did I wake you?"

Spike blinked groggily. Before his eyes were fully opened a heated blood bag was thrust into his hands. Another blink and a catlike yawn.

"Cheers, Pet."

Angel gave a nod and then immediately began to tell Spike about his day…

By the time he'd torn into Spike for spluttering blood all over the bedding, raged at him for his uncontrolled mirth, explained how none of it was his fault, ranted about untimely remarks and unsupportive behaviour from Gunn and Wesley, Spike's cheeks were wet with laughter and Angel was beginning to feel more like his normal self.

"Percy's right. They'll be queuing around the block for the Wolfram & Hart `personal' touch. You can make a new voiceover commercial… `This is the Poof at Wolfram & Hart. Are you dying for your first orgasm? No need. Here at Wolfram & Hart wurhg, gur ugh…'"

Angel clamped his hand tightly over Spike's laughing mouth.

"No more, ok? Not one word more."

He refused to relent until Spike nodded his agreement. Then flopped down on the bed next to his childe, darting surreptitious glances in his direction.

"Sorry."

"S'alright… uh, sorry for what?"

"You know. Coming up here and kinda piling it all on to you."

Spike gave him an inscrutable look, making Angel a little uncomfortable.

"How are you doing today?"

"Still painful, s'pose."

If he admitted to pain it must be agony.

"You've been taking the painkillers?"

"You didn't leave me any."

"But I left them right…"

But he remembered now, he hadn't. They were still in the bathroom.

"Fricking hell, Spike! What's the matter with you? Why didn't you call me?"

He hurried to the medicine cabinet and brought out the bottle. His brows were drawn together in a dark angry line, he could have kicked himself. Spike caught his arm.

"Hey. It's ok. I've been asleep all day. It's only since I've been awake…"

"Since, I got in and started whinging about my day." Angel was still annoyed with himself and handed over a couple of tablets.

"Yeah and bloody entertaining it was too!" Spike began to chuckle again as he knocked back the painkillers.

Angel gave a small answering smile.

"What's so funny now?"

"After what you did to that demon, he'll probably think you're mated for life."

"Oh Jesus!" Angel closed his eyes.

"What's the matter, Pet? Were you wearing your beer goggles? Ain't he quite so attractive in the cold light of day?"

Angel shuddered.

"Have you ever known an attractive demon?"

Spike gazed at Angel.

"One or two, Luv. One or two."

Once again the tablets knocked Spike out and this time Angel padded quietly around the apartment, enjoying the anticipation of climbing into bed and knowing that there was another body lying next to him. Then to fall asleep and find that somehow, during the night, the space between them had disappeared and finally awaking to find he was nuzzled into soft hair… that was the best feeling of all. It was soothing and comfortable and made him feel sorry for all the people who didn't wake up to it.


oooo


Spike awoke and studied Angel as he slept. He remembered the old days when Angelus used to fall asleep under William's ever watchful eye, remembered staring, always waiting for velvet eyes to open and a certain look to appear, some sort of acknowledgement of their first meeting. Acknowledgement of the fiery bond fashioned by heated flesh that smouldered in the sun. Wanting… well, hardly knowing what he wanted.

Whilst the others sank beneath the surface of consciousness like stones into a river, William had reached out a hand and lightly trailed fingers through silky, smooth hair, letting it spill over his hand, enjoying the contrast of the dark tresses against the white of his skin. Then one night Angelus had turned to face him. Will had nearly fled the bed in horror, only calming when he realised his Sire was still soundly sleeping.

He used to examine the face in repose, the dark fan of lashes, the shape of his lip, reaching out a finger and tentatively tracing the outline of the strong jaw. So it continued. Each night he became bolder, until finally he found the courage to nuzzle into a space that seemed made for him, the crook where shoulder and arm met, where he could lay and breathe his sire in. Night after night the same routine. Angelus would always turn towards him and William would give in to his fledgling instincts and immerse himself in the scent of his sire.

Then one morning he awoke to the shocking realisation that he'd fallen asleep before moving away. They were still wrapped together… Angelus' eyes were open and had a look in them that William couldn't decipher. He'd leapt away in guilt, desperately trying to remove himself from the tangle of bedding and limbs. And then staring in dismay at his Sire, he recognised that there was nothing ambivalent in those stormy eyes, only a dark anger that made William determined to never show, by look or word, how much he needed the comfort of his Sire's touch.

Spike moved uneasily as these memories returned. His legs were throbbing in agony and he was having difficulty getting back to sleep. He contemplated the sleeping vampire. The features were still the same but he was kind of sad to notice that the overall appearance was more careworn. He reached out as though he would smooth the care away and sighed as he remembered the bandages. He shifted slightly and was rewarded with another burst of pain that blossomed through his body. He began to breathe and automatically reached for the comfort he'd known as a fledgling, turning his head once more into that comforting crook and surrounding himself with the scent that meant safety and home.


oooo


Angel started the new day pretty much as he had the old one. He woke up and felt pretty good. He showered and felt revitalized. He warmed Spike some blood and felt needed. He was happy and buzzing until the elevator began to bring him down. He entered the morning meeting and the weight of his frown dragged at the rest of the team.

Fred began by reporting that there was evidence that someone had gained access to all their files.

"There's no indication of tampering, but someone has been systematically rifling through our computer files."

"Hackers?" Wesley queried.

"No. I'm pretty sure it was internal. They knew all our codes, passwords and encryption devices."

Angel could feel his mood turning blacker. He sat forward and laced his hands together in front of him.

"Eve? Would you care to comment?"

Eve gave a small shrug.

"I know no more than you, kids. But the Senior Partners like to keep a close eye on all their branches."

Angel could feel the tic starting up in his jaw and slowly forced his teeth to unclench.

"They could have just asked us."

"I'm sure they will. But you know how it is with some people.
They like to know the answer before they ask the question."

"Ask questions? We're going to get a visit from the Senior Partners?"

"I'm sure I couldn't say."

Jeez, this was like pulling teeth. Her smug smile gave Angel an idea of whose teeth he'd like to pull.

Wesley cleared his throat and then wished he hadn't. It made him sound nervous. Angel's eyes swivelled to him.

"Make it some good news, Wes."

He pushed back his glasses and then resolutely looked Angel in the eye.

"I'm sorry. There's evidence that there is another Chanokar demon residing in the area…"

"More corpses?"

Wesley nodded.

"Damn! Ok. At least we know how to deal with them now. We'll… I'll hunt it down tonight."

The morning wore on and Angel found himself increasingly frustrated by the sheer stupidity of the things he had to tolerate at W&H, and there was no one he could legitimately blame or fire or behead. Instead, the tension gradually mounted throughout the day. It was all beginning to build up once more. He wielded too much authority to unleash his temper on his underlings and too much power physically to lose it with anyone else.

He became snappy and unapproachable.

By midday Angel felt as if he'd put in a full week's work. He took a break and his thoughts wandered to Spike yet again. He found it kind of weird not having him hanging around, although he couldn't really put his finger on why. It wasn't as if he ever made a contribution to company life or was any sort of help. In fact, really he ought to be grateful for the respite. The only relevance Spike had was in adding his dime's worth and making a bad situation worse.

Angel frowned in irritation, he was trying to follow a train of thought but he could hear people talking outside his office. Surely they should know by now about sensitive vamp ears? Those ears pricked up when they heard his name mentioned.

"What the hell is up with the Boss?"

"He's missing Spike."

Angel heard Fred's reply and gave a snort that was echoed by Gunn.

"Are you kidding me girl? All they do is bicker and fight."

"But have you ever thought about why they do it?"

"My guess is, just of the top of my head here, you understand, they hate each other."

Angel frowned. Was that right? Maybe yesterday, but this morning...

"Well you'd be wrong, Charles. Shall I tell you what Spike said?"

Angel was straining towards the conversation. He wanted to join in and urge Fred to continue.

"He said that they kept each other sane by driving each other mental. That Angel shouldn't be expected to be mature and reasonable 24/7. That it wasn't healthy for him."

"So Spike winds him up for the good of his health?"

Gunn sounded slightly disbelieving and Angel sided with Gunn on this one.

"He lets Angel explode at the little things to enable him to deal with the big things. He's sort of like the earth for Angel's lightening, making sure it strikes without damaging anything of value. Although, I don't think it's totally selfless, they both kinda enjoy the game."

"Does Angel realise this?" Wes asked.

"Well if he doesn't he ought to. I mean I managed to figure it out…"

"Yeah. But you like Spike…well, you know what I mean. You're the only one of us who really looks at him and sees what's there."

"He's easy to read. You just have to ignore his words and look to his actions and results."

They moved away out of earshot, leaving Angel staring blankly at his monitor.

Once she was sure that she was out of range, she turned to the others with an uncertain smile.

"Was that ok? D'ya think he got it?"

"You were marvellous." Wesley replied warmly.

"If the guy didn't get that then we go back to my original sledgehammer idea."

"Ya don't think it was kinda… interfering?"

"Not at all. I wouldn't call it interfering. A friendly intervention."

"I don't care if it was interference. Man, I remember last time the dude lost it."

Fred looked concerned.

"Uh… what happened last time?"

"He sacked us."

"And left a roomful of lawyers to die."

"Oh! Maybe we could go back and I'll make it a bit clearer…?"

Another thought occurred, causing a wrinkle of uneasiness on her open face.

"Ya don't think Spike'll mind that I told Angel what he said?"

"Well technically you didn't." Gunn pointed out. "Is it your fault that super-vamp hearing caught you out?"

"If anything bad comes of this..."

"Whatever happens, it was time that Angel woke up to what was going around him. For good or bad we did the right thing. I'm certain of it."

"Ya think?" She smiled trustingly at Wesley.


oooo


His brain turned away from the conversation, He wasn't yet ready to process everything he'd overheard. Yet he couldn't turn his thought to anything else. Old conversations and disputes were running continuously through his head. Was Fred right?

He'd always known that the attitude and the posturing and the words were a façade but he'd never thought about what might be hidden behind it. Never been interested enough to try and Spike himself discouraged such investigation with his leather and fury attitude. But was it all a diversion? If so why? What was he diverting attention from?

Angel didn't like having so many unanswered questions. Instead he turned to practicalities, yet even these were Spike orientated. He remembered the promised entertainment and buzzed through. Gunn knew gadgets and Harmony knew Spike, so they drew the short straw. He called them in and told them they were going shopping.

Gunn was in the middle of pulling together a case and couldn't believe that shopping was suddenly now more important, but Angel was adamant.

"Nothing in pink." Angel shot a warning glance at Harmony.

"And no opera."

Damn. He'd been humming `Three Little Maids from School' again. He really needed to get some cooler tracks before his street cred was shot to hell. He covered his mortification with complaint.

"Brain upgraded to the size of a planet and what happens? The Boss sends me shopping with the damned Fanged Barbie."

Harmony was dancing in anticipation of spending big bucks and looked confused at Gunn's attitude.

"Huh? So you're saying brainy people don't shop?"

She was a little incredulous, until she spotted Fred in her neat but plain clothes, and her eyes lit up with understanding. She gave a knowing nod.

"Ohhh! Duh. I see what you mean." Her eyes rolled at her own stupidity. "They shop, but they just don't do it very well…"

She ended in a stage whisper that had Fred looking across with a frown of suspicion. Harmony gave her a little wave and tucked her hand happily under Gunn's arm with a delightful, frothy feeling of superiority.

"Luckily, you've got me, Marvin. Let's go shopping."

Man, he was so not looking forward to this.

"You know? Why don't they make a Vampire Barbie? It would be kinda neat and the kids would love it. It could have cute little retractable fangs…"

Gunn came to a stop, his face a screwed up mixture of disbelief and revulsion.

"We don't need no blood-sucking Barbie, it's just… gross."

"But…"

"No. If we're shopping together, no more talking about it, ok?"

"Well, ok. Sheesh. Just trying to make conversation. It wouldn't hurt you to be sociable occasionally."

They began walking again and she searched her head for another topic of conversation.

"So, what do you think of a Vampire Ken…?" She smiled brightly.


oooo


He worked quietly and calmly through his reports all afternoon, barricading his mind with drudgery and tedium.

Harmony and a frazzled looking Gunn returned from their expedition, calling for security to help with the profusion of bags and boxes. They were noisily bickering.

Angel studied them curiously, as though he could find crib notes written in their behaviour. But Harmony truly was an idiot and they didn't have a hundred and twenty five years of history flaring behind them like the fiery tail of a comet. He found no clues to guide him.

Jesus… how big was that box? That was never going to fit in the elevator. He kept half an eye on them, as red faced security men manoeuvred and cursed under Gunn and Harmony's contradictory instructions, and then after fifteen minutes of frustrating exertion, Angel was proved right. They were going to have to carry it up the stairs. He almost felt sorry for the exhausted men. Gunn was glancing towards him and he quickly buried himself back under his mountain of papers.

"Boss…?"

"Sorry." Angel raised regretful eyes. "I'd help, just kinda snowed under here."

Gunn looked suspicious but nodded and left. Angel watched, curious to see how they would handle it. They were arguing again, Gunn was gesturing and Harmony rolling her eyes. Then these two disparate people seemed to reach some kind of accord. Gunn was taking off his jacket and Harmony was shoving back the sleeves of her little pink bolero. They picked up the heavy box and were using his brain and human strength, and her vampire brawn to achieve the task.

Oh… She really should have taken those shoes off first. Her foot wobbled and twisted. The box became unbalanced and Gunn lost his grip, the full weight suddenly fell to Harmony which knocked her off balance and she fell sideways on the steps, the box crashing into her. Angel half rose from the desk, expecting to have to intervene. He waited for Gunn to check the box and rant at her stupidity for not removing her dangerously high-heeled shoes beforehand. But Gunn surprised him by ignoring the box and racing to her side, reaching out a hand…

The instructions he'd been searching for were in front of him, with all the simplicity of a children's story book, illustrated with pictures and written in large bold print. If those two could achieve amicable relations surely there was hope for all of them? He and Spike had lived so long with their childishness, violence and lies that Angel no longer knew what the truth was anymore. And he wanted to find out; because the conversation he'd overheard earlier seemed to indicate that his idiot childe was at least one step ahead of him.

He rose from his desk, checked on Harmony and then helped them upstairs with the box. Sometimes he forgot that fighting the fight wasn't always about the big picture. It was sometimes about the detail and small acts of kindness that was the heart of humanity. It was recognising who was on your side and working with them, giving them the respect their actions deserved. He was learning again the basic lessons that had become swamped in the enormity of what he had taken on as CEO.

The rest of the afternoon was spent tuning out the bustle and noise and contemplating the blur of papers in front of his eyes. Yet appearances and thoughts bore no synchronicity. His eyes bore into yet another report whilst his mind took more unfamiliar routes, veering wildly off-road and bumping down unexplored dirt tracks. But his brooding resolved nothing, could resolve nothing, until he'd faced his childe with all veneers and disguises stripped away. Did he really want to do this? Did he really want to know what lay beneath?

Darkness fell and he had one more task to deal with. The other Chanokar. He supposed he should hate the damned thing for all the pain it had caused, but in the end it was just a creature trying to survive. Of course, when demons reduced humans to nothing more than cattle and prey then he had to act. He was still the hero, the Champion, and this is what he did.

He had its scent and could track it easily. Normally Angel would have enjoyed the fight, but he was preoccupied and all his aggression had dissipated. He cautiously watched the seemingly human figure. He knew how it fought and he knew about the strike from the paralysing appendage. Hard won knowledge, admittedly.

He watched it approach and contemplated how these Chanokars had become irrecoverably bound to his own story. They were a catalyst to a deep change and Angel could feel the fingers of this change brushing lightly over his soul. He wished he could give the creature a quick death, a clean beheading. There again what was more cleansing that flame?

The Chanokar turned towards him, seeing only a rabbit waiting to be skinned. Angel waited, head cocked to one side, the weight of the lighter in his hand.

"Hi there. I'm Angel. I think I ran into a friend of yours a couple of days ago…?"

The thing's face seemed to ripple and change with fury. Angel was reminded how he'd felt when Spike was injured… how would he have reacted if Spike had been dusted? He almost lost his concentration and buried the disturbing thought, turning his focus back to the enraged demon.

"You…!"

"Yeah. Me." He gave an apologetic shrug, it was kind of sincere. "Sorry."

He was anticipating the attack. The thing leapt into attack, confident of its invulnerability. As the darting proboscis appeared, Angel caught it, brought up his knife and sliced through the dangerous tube of flesh.

The scream was horrific, a high pitched sound that soared through the night, shattering glass and hanging like a banshee's wail over the empty streets. Then a click and a small flickering, flame in the darkness. Angel ended its misery and pain, standing back as it flared and exploded into slime and noxious gases.

He stood a minute and contemplated the lighter, there was something significant hidden within its dull, silver casing, but the thought hovered just outside his grasp. He returned it to his pocket and meandered his way through darkened streets until he saw the offices towering in front of him. It was time. There were no other tasks that he could distract himself with.

Honesty. He was an honest guy. He could do honesty with Spike just for this one night. The place was lit by low emergency lighting, shrouded in semi-darkness and silence. There were no more excuses. Except maybe he should finish reading that report… He ran his fingers through his hair, sighed and headed to the elevator taking his first shaky steps towards Spike

When he entered the apartment the other vampire was already awake. His face looked strained and his skin thin and papery, but he managed a nod of greeting.

"Hey, Peaches. Another good day?"

Was that supposed to be his cue to swear and rant? He guessed that normally he would have taken the opportunity to release his tension. Angel stared at him, determined to manoeuvre through the habitual smokescreens and his own automatic responses to long established stimuli.

"Yeah, it was ok." This was honest enough, for a W&H day it had been pretty average. "Have you taken you painkillers?"

"Just now."

"You need to take them more often. I'll visit a couple of times during the day and make sure you're ok."

"Nah. I'm fine. And anyway I know how it is. You get stuck in a meeting or another crisis…"

"Doesn't matter. I'll come up during the day and check on you."

Spike stared at him and then shook his head as though shaking off cobwebs.

"So, work ok? Get involved in any more grubby demon sex?" He asked with a cocked eyebrow and a sly grin.

Angel counted that as his next cue. He didn't rise to the bait but busied around with blood bags and gave Spike the answer he deserved as an ally and an adult.

"No, but apparently three more Tsrt demons called asking for us to take on their cases, so I guess that all worked out ok in the end. There was another Chanokar, but I've taken care of it. Oh, I think the Senior Partners are investigating us."

Spike looked at him suspiciously.

"You're being surprisingly calm, Pet. Harmony been spiking your blood with tranquilizers?"

Angel shook his head

"Talking of blood, remind me to check your wounds tonight."

Spike was looking distinctly nervous as he contemplated how truly vulnerable he was. He was stuck in bed and unable to move, in an apartment where even if they did hear you scream, they probably wouldn't care. What the hell had he been thinking of, placing himself in such a vulnerable position? Why hadn't he insisted on being taken back to his own little basement? Oh yeah, cus his basement was wank and Peaches had been on a guilt-trip.

"Hey, that is you, yeah? This ain't the calm before you do the psycho killer bit, is it?"

Angel's lips nudged into a smile but there was something in his eyes that Spike couldn't translate. It was confusing; he thought he could read his Sire like a book.

"No. It's just because I forgot to say thank you. Thank you for saving me."

A slight frown as Spike tried to suss out whether Angel was taking the piss, but his probing eyes discovered only truth.

"Well, alright then."

His bloody brilliant plan had failed, but continental plates must have somehow shifted anyway, because a crack had appeared in Angel's world and approval flowed through it like melted rock forced from the heart of the earth. The heat of it lit Spike up like candles on a cake. His 125th Deathday hadn't been a complete loss. He looked down and then shyly raised his eyes. A small smile hovering on his lips.

All it took was a `thank you' to see this expression on Spike's face and it shamed Angel to realise that he'd never seen the look before. Spike noticed the clouds that obscured his face and misunderstood.

"Hey, it's ok. I know you’d have done the same for me."

Angel found it difficult to talk about things that really mattered, but he knew he had to. He got up, walked across to the window and stared out at the LA cityscape. He watched rows of headlights moving smoothly along their preordained paths, one after another, they always reminded him of shiny jewels running along a chain, or rosary beads flicking through the fingers of a penitent. An ironic smile crossed his mouth and he wished that that was all it took, a hundred Hail Mary's and an Our Father and all was forgiven.

He enjoyed looking out over his city, where a million people lived a million lives, all as desperate as him to make a connection. Maybe he was one of the lucky ones. Maybe he had a chance to crack the stone that encased him, if he was willing to take the chance.

"I'm not talking about the other night. I mean, yeah, that too, but..."

Spike was looking with curiosity shining bright in his eyes, watching as his sire pulled out the lighter. Spike almost spoke, he'd been searching in vain for it for the past two days, but something in Angel's stance held him mute.

Angel liked the weight of it in his hand. It was solid and dependable. He turned it over and examined the battered, worn, casing. He frowned. The casing didn't describe the lighter, gave no clue as to its nature. His touch flicked the flame into life. Here was the essence of it. He stared into the heart of the luminous light.

When he spoke his voice was low and considered.

"I mean everyday, I go down and I'm swamped by problems and evil and ambivalence. It's overwhelming. And every day I drown in it. But you're there like a small flame in the darkness. Sometimes you burn me up, make my eyes explode in their sockets and my skin blister and bubble. But that's what light does."

He raised his eyes from the flame, to the light that he could now see burning so brightly within his childe.

"And everyday you save me."

There was something fragile in Spike's face, it was reminiscent of William.

"I…" Spike moistened his lips but nothing more emerged.

"It's ok. Don't say anything."

He'd found what he was looking for. He'd worked his way through all the diversions and used the blade of naked honesty to cut through Spike's defences. Tomorrow things would fall into their normal pattern, but tonight….

He knew what he'd seen suspended in the swim of blue.

He got into bed next to Spike and gently helped him into the crook of his shoulder. Finally acknowledging all those night he'd turned towards William and waited for his childe to nuzzle against him and find his place in that un-beating hollow between his shoulders and his chest.

 

Next   Index   Feedback

 

1