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      Angel looked closely at his errant childe leaning in the doorway of his office, seeking changes in the unchangeable: It was all still there --arrogant, cocky, angry-- but there was a stillness that was unusual and under that stillness a certain apprehension. He seemed hesitant, and that was not a state usually connected with Spike. He went at things whole-heartedly and damn-the-consequences, as Angel had occasion to both use and rue over the decades.

Finally, Angel broke the silence that had grown between them like a chasm.
"What do you want, Spike?"

To his surprise, Spike's immediate reply was a short bark of bitter laughter.
"If I knew that, Ducks, I probably wouldn't be here."

Angel mulled over that answer. Coming to the conclusion that this seemed less like one of Spike's hare-brained schemes and more like a serious attempt at communication, his curiosity won out over his caution. After all, this was his childe. Spike might torture him, but he wouldn't stake him . . . probably. Besides, this didn't seem like one of those sorts of visits. His behavior was almost . . . civil.

Angel rose from his desk, "Are you hungry?" he asked as he headed into the kitchen of the Hyperion. Spike followed, silent as a shadow. Angel turned to look at him, reached into the refrigerator and raised one eyebrow questioningly. With a sigh, Spike nodded and sank into a chair on the far side of the kitchen table to await the warming process.

As Angel sat across from him, Spike raised the mug and drank. He suddenly became still, as only an unnatural being can. Setting the mug down with exaggerated care, he spoke quietly, but his tone screamed with tension.
"Is there something you want to tell me, pet? This is human."

Spike searched deep in Angel's eyes, and Angel realized that he was probably looking for signs of Angelus. He smiled in what he hoped was a reassuring way.
"I buy it from the blood banks. Wesley had some research . . .," he paused to shudder at where the information might have come from "Any way, he convinced me that I couldn't remain healthy on a diet of animal blood alone so. . . ."

Spike took the reply in and turned it around slowly in his brain, looking at all its sides. He glanced at the mug; noticing for the first time that on the black porcelain surface there was a set of smiling fangs and the words, "Bite me." A bit of the tension slid away, and he took his mug in both hands, as if warming them from its heat, and drank slowly and sensually, obviously savoring every mouth full.

Angel watched the display with increasing enjoyment. One of the things he had never tired of in Spike was his hedonistic ability to revel in sensation. Even when Angel had been hanging in chains with pokers skewering his body, there had been a small, detached part of him that had taken pleasure from the sight of Spike's delight at causing and witnessing the torture. His boy fairly glowed with life sometimes, which ,for one of the undead, was a pretty mean trick.

Angel had long since finished his blood when Spike, with a wistful sigh, set his mug down. Spike's mouth seemed to take on a life of its own.

"More, Sire?"

It was Angel's turn to become a statue, but he quickly brushed past the momentous title that he had not heard in almost one hundred years. He busied himself warming another mug for his hungry childe.

Spike gratefully accepted Angel's gift of silence. He didn't know where that appellation had come from: perhaps the combination of the restlessness that brought him here and Angel feeding him human blood had made the old ways leap so easily to his lips. Still, it was not exactly the old ways per se that Spike sought, so he hoped his slip hadn't started them down a path that would be difficult to turn from if they went much further.

Angel returned to the table, handing Spike the mug refilled with warm blood. Spike sat back in his chair then scooted it to the side in order to prop his feet on the chair next to him. It left him a glimpse of Angel in his peripheral vision and gave Angel a clear view of Spike's scarred profile.

Spike took an unnecessarily deep breath and began, "So . . . Peaches, knowing how good you are at the small talk, I guess I should get 'round to it."

Angel waited, but no more seemed to be forthcoming. "Take your time, Spike. It's not like we don't have enough of it." The puzzlement was clear in Angel's voice, but so was the sincerity. Spike stared off into the distance unblinking, set his mug down to search his pockets, and lit a cigarette. Angel rose without comment and dug an old ashtray out of a junk drawer that said "The Hyperion" on it.

"Ta, luv." Spike commented, then began as if resuming an earlier conversation "'S not the dreams so much. Dreamin' 'bout you for over a hundred years, I reckon. Just not like lately. Usually it's all blood and gore; the hunting, ya know? Or you teaching me wot's wot; whips and chains. That's all normal, innit?" Spike let the silence build again, smoking and drinking, but Angel kept his tongue, knowing a rhetorical question when he heard one and ill at ease with the thought of interrupting his childe's train of thought.

Spike turned his head to look directly at Angel. "Do you remember the normal, everyday times, Peaches?" At Angel's nod, he continued, "So it's not all sackcloth and ashes, then?"

Angel shook his head decisively, and then spoke almost too low for even Spike to hear. "If I'd no' remembered, would I have come ta China?" Angel's soft brogue had teased its way into his words. "I wanted ma fam'ly but I could no' watch. . . ."

A slight smile drifted over Spike's face then disappeared like morning fog. He drained the last of his mug and set it down. "More?" Angel quickly offered, alleviating the need for Spike to ask.

Once again Spike turned to face Angel, giving him a long, indecipherable look. Deciding he saw no mockery there, he replied politely, "No, thank you. Maybe later? It's been . . . a long time." Turning away again, Spike missed the distress on his Sire's face at the thought of how dependant on others his childe had become. Since he had found out about the chip, Angel often had nightmares about Spike being hungry and wondered if they came from a basis of fact but had always assumed any inquiry on the subject would be bitterly resented.

Spike lit another cigarette as soon as he snubbed the first one out then toyed with his lighter for a few moments. "Right. Been dreamin' 'bout the quiet times. No bints. Just us. Readin', playin' chess, lazin' in. . . ." Spike's detached voice broke off quickly before he could finish what he was saying, but he knew that Angel could probably scent the desire triggered by the unspoken thoughts. "Since I left Brazil," Spike carefully avoided bringing the spectre of Drusilla any further into the conversation, "I've been alone. First time, when all's said and done --first time in a hundred and thirty years, mate. Give or take a few."

Angel saw that Spike's hand was unconsciously shaking from the attempt to control his feelings. He remembered how terrible the first few decades of solitude had been for him, but at least his torment had kept him company. His soul and his guilt filled up the spaces that were left by his Sire and Childer. Spike had nothing but the Scoobies to distract him from his exile.

Angel knew from speaking with Giles that Spike's need for blood had driven him to assist the Slayer on a semi-regular basis, and that as a result, he was persona non grata in the Sunnydale demonic community. Despite his irritation with Spike, Giles at least had a modicum of empathy for him. Both of them were exiles from their place of birth and the kind of life they had thought they would be living. As English expatriates in California --Spike unable to truly be a vampire, and Giles unable to truly be a Watcher-- surrounded by hormone-driven teenagers, the two of them had more in common than casual observations would lead any one to believe.

Unbeknownst to the Scoobies, the Slayer or Spike himself, Giles kept Angel abreast of Spike's situation, despite the discomfort that occasionally arose from hearing a voice that still haunted him in nightmares of torture and murderous loss. Angel often imagined he heard the shadows of those nightmares in their conversations, just as he sometimes heard nightmare shadows in Spike's, but it appeared that the contents of Spike's nightmares were not quite what he had imagined.

Now it became clear to Angel why Spike lingered on the Hellmouth: condescending acquaintances were better than no contact at all. Angel felt his demon rage at the thought of Spike relying on the whims of fickle youth for passing companionship.

Spike, sensing the rise of Angel's ire, broke into his thought, "'S alright, mate. Used to it now, right? Lately though . . . things are harder. Maybe your human's right about the blood. I seem to heal slower than I should have done, these days. Thought it was because my demon was throttled by this bloody chip. Times when I feel like I have no reflection, yeah? Not in the mirror, o'course, no vamp does, but 's like when you can't see your self in there then the only place you have a reflection is . . . when someone else looks at you." Spike laughed self-deprecatingly. "Am I making any sense here, Peaches? You must think I've gone round the bleedin' twist this time."

"No, Spike," Angel was quick to reassure him, "at least, if you are round the twist then I'm there waiting for you. It took you a lot less time to figure it out than it did me. What I do think is that you're tired and malnourished. When was the last time you slept?"

Spike smiled wanly, "Wot? You mean slept well? Sad to say prob'ly that last time I was at Rupert's or even the whelp's. Not much security in a crypt, mate; Not too popular in Sunnyhell; Can't afford to sleep too deep."

Angel shook his head and made a tsking sound. "Well, you're secure enough here. Why don't you lay down and give that blood a chance to do you some good?"

It was a measure of Spike's uncertainty and distress that he didn't even bother to argue. "Where to, pet? A bit of a nod sounds good," he replied wearily.

Angel rose, and Spike followed him up the stairs to his room. Spike hesitated as they neared the bed. The room was clearly Angel's own: Spike could smell him everywhere, and while he could admit internally that the scent meant safety and home, he wanted to be sure just what it was Angel was offering.

Angel smiled reassuringly and raised his hands in a gesture halfway between innocence and surrender. "No tricks, Spike. This bed is made, and this room is safe. No one enters here without my permission. Besides, another room would smell stale and unfamiliar. This should reinforce that I'm watching your back. You need to sleep deep enough to really rest. Okay?"

Spike was still smirking at the thought that a stale hotel room (compared to the dank, musty crypt he had been sleeping in) would keep him awake. A part of him wanted to be furious at Angel still, wanted to deny any bond he might feel for him, but he had to admit that his Sire was treating him with kid gloves, going out of his way to avoid pushing any of the innumerable buttons to which he had open access. After all, Angelus put most of those buttons there; it only made sense that Angel was all too aware of them. Telling his aching pride that it could get upset with Angel after a good rest, and maybe some more of that delicious blood, Spike sank down on the edge of the bed.

Angel knelt at Spike's feet and efficiently began removing his boots.
Spike laughed lightly, "'Ere, Angel, I don't look that bad, do I? Can take off me own boots."
Angel just glanced up and smiled as if to say, humor me. Spike shrugged off his duster and let Angel finish.

"Blimey, mate, there was a time I would have given me knackers to see you in that position," he observed, wincing as his mouth outran the censor in his brain.
Angel paused, looking straight ahead for a moment, and Spike knew that he was looking directly at the sudden erection, straining against his jeans at the thought of Angel on his knees in that way. Angel swallowed hard, as if his mouth was either too dry or too wet. He placed his hands on top of Spike's thighs --and for a moment, Spike thought his undead heart had begun to beat again-- but then Angel levered himself up from the floor and drew his hands away.

"You get settled in," he said, his voice raspy with suppressed emotion, "I'm going to go do a bit of paperwork until the "day shift" gets here." The mild irony implied in a vampire having a day shift eased the unacknowledged tension between them. "Once they know not to disturb the room, I'll come back. Is that okay?"

Spike shrugged negligently, "Sure, peaches, your room. I'll be deep asleep by then; you won't disturb me. Ta, mate."

Angel silently bet that Spike would not really sleep deeply until his childe felt his return but tactfully left it unspoken. Spike had little enough room for guarding his pride these days; far be it from Angel to remove any more of it.

Spike watched his Sire until he closed the door behind him then stood up, shucked off his clothes and sank into the shelter of Angel's bed. Burrowing beneath the covers, surrounded by his Sire's scent, he fell almost immediately into a still and dreamless sleep.

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