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     Spike woke slowly, savoring the feeling that he expected to disappear with the last scrap of sleep. He only ever felt safe in his dreams, so it took longer than usual for him to come to the awareness that he was nestled in Angel's arms: his head pillowed on Angel's firm chest. Once he had come to terms with that, he couldn't decide what took priority, the desire to stay exactly where he was in case it never happened again, or the almost uncontrollable urge to beat Angel until he was unrecognizable for making him recall all the years he had dreamt of this very thing. Spike was very good at denying his dreams a place in his conscious mind, but this tableau had ripped the gate open and let them all flow out.

Fortunately, the indecision was so paralyzing he couldn't react at all, and moments later, Angel shifted in his sleep which allowed Spike to extricate himself without waking up his erstwhile pillow. Discretion for once actually seeming to him to be the better part of valor, Spike retreated into the bathroom and a hot shower.

Angel had been awake for more than an hour; equally savoring the unexpected sensation of holding Spike in his arms again. He knew immediately when Spike began to wake up, because his breathing ceased once more. He had thought the preceding hour was the most sublime feeling he could have experienced, but the long minutes between Spike waking and Angel feeling the tension begin to build in him were beyond golden. Knowing that Spike was in his arms, and that Spike knew he was in his arms without pulling away, was more than Angel could have ever hoped for, as little a time ago as yesterday.

Angel often told clients to hope --that just a little time could conceivably change everything-- but it wasn't often that he thought such words might apply to him. Time has a different, though not always less cruel, meaning to someone who is effectively immortal. Not wanting to destroy the moment with mere words, Angel shifted his arms away from his childe in what he hoped was a natural way: allowing Spike the egress needed to arise without ostensibly waking his bedmate.

After the bathroom door closed, Angel slowly stretched. He didn't know if Spike had believed the ruse, or if they were both simply pretending in order to avoid examining the position they had found themselves in, but either way was fine with him. As long as he could have this slice of homecoming, he could deal with whatever "loudness" might occur later in the day.

Angel went to the door and checked the hallway. Sure enough, there was a laundry basket filled with new clothes that had been washed and folded, ready for use. Sometimes Cordelia went beyond the call, but she preferred to pretend that she did it out of mercenary reasons. That probably meant that she had found at least one or two things for herself while out shopping for Spike. Angel smiled in satisfaction. It was good to have at least one human around whose motivations he usually understood. Taking the basket, he tapped lightly on the bathroom door.

"C'mon in, mate." Spike yelled over the noise of the shower.
Angel stepped into the steamy room and closed the door to keep the heat in.

"You need in here, Peaches?" Spike offered politely. Angel was afraid to find out whether Spike meant to vacate the shower or was inviting Angel to join him.

"No, no, I just brought you some clothes. I noticed you didn't seem to have brought any spares with you, so I had Cordelia run out an grab a few things."

He set the basket down on the floor and turned to face the empty vanity mirror. He had been amused when, in the course of cleaning one day, Cordelia had coated his mirror with a substance that she assured him would keep it from fogging over: it was not like he ever used it, after all; however, at this moment he was grateful indeed. Spike had pushed the shower curtain open to see what Angel was talking about, and Angel was treated to the somewhat disturbing reflection of the water in the shower conforming to Spike's body even though his body, in and of itself, remained invisible. The disturbing part was that Angel found this suggestion of Spike's body more arousing than actually seeing it would have been. It made it illicit, tantalizing.

Spike peered at the basket of clothes, somewhat amused at his Sire's presumption but more amused at him politely turning away. It was not like Angel hadn't seen every square centimeter of him before and at a lot closer range than where he was standing right now, that's for sure. Spike took a breath preparatory to bedeviling him about it and was struck with the scent of arousal --a scent he had re-familiarized himself with while cocooned in Angel's sheets-- but this scent was fresh, not a vestige and could have no other cause but Spike's presence.

"Unless the pouf has developed some sort of fetish for bathrooms in general," Spike mused, "possible but doubtful."
"The Cheerleader shopped for me?" Spike opted to steer to a neutral subject. "Does this mean I should check them for holy hand grenades and the like?" He queried in a facetious tone.

Angel laughed appreciatively, "I think you're safe there. She promised not to try to stake you, so I think that probably covers all forms of attack, except verbal."

Spike bristled a little, "Protecting me from the help?"

Angel genuinely had to laugh this time. "Not hardly, more the other way around. I know you have more ways of retaliating than your fangs after all even if they don't, and I don't want to have to clean up after any of them."

Spike relaxed and let the shower curtain fall back into place, continuing his relaxing wash. Angel sighed with relief at the disappearance of the non-reflection. In what he hoped was a conversational tone of voice, he said, "She informed me that she could fit you without any pesky information like sizes, so if she's wrong feel free to have at her on that account. I told her not to buy things she knew you wouldn't wear either, so I'm hoping she stuck with your usual colors. It looks like she's already laundered it all. Not unsure of herself when it comes to fashion, that's our Cordy."

Spike had to smile at the marginal improvement in Angel's conversation skills: somehow he thought he probably had Cordelia to thank for that also.
"'S right, Angel. Can't wait to see what Queen C thinks should be drapin' my hot, undead body. Just about done here, pet; you want to get in next?" Spike issued the invitation in his most innocent voice. Sure enough, the scent of Angel's arousal soared, and his voice became rather dry and strangled, despite the high humidity in the room.

"No, take your time, Spike," he croaked, "I'll use one of the other showers. Meet me in the kitchen when you're ready, and we'll feed."

Angel beat a hasty retreat, and Spike chuckled at his abrupt departure. He would finish his shower, peruse Cordelia's offerings and then head downstairs after Angel had had plenty of time to check in with his humans. It appeared to still be light out, so they were bound to be here. Even if they would have usually been gone by now, the Cheerleader was going nowhere until she saw what he chose to wear. That he would be willing to bet on.

Once he was dry, Spike carried the basket out and sat on Angel's bed. He had to admit Cordelia's legendary fashion sense had succeeded where size was concerned. His new jeans were all black and button-fly. The t-shirts, too, were black but half of them were round necked and half of them v-necked. His socks were black and heavy enough for wearing with boots. The shirts though were where Cordelia had, had her tentative rebellion: three were varying shades of red, from bright blood to an almost burgundy red, one was black, one deep charcoal gray and the final one a rich, incredibly dark, sapphire blue. He had to admit if he'd seen it himself, he would have been tempted; it would undoubtedly make his eyes practically glow within his face.

As he picked it up to take a closer look, he noticed the front pocket had something in it. It appeared to be a small bottle and a note. Leaving the bottle in place and carefully removing the note (all the while remembering his earlier holy hand grenade remark) he unfolded the paper.

     Fangless-  Never let it be said I forgot about accessorizing
       even if the look is so yesterday.
     Welcome to the asylum, but please burn this so I can
     credibly deny ever having said it.

             p.s. If you don't wear the blue you are as demented
              as that loony you used to hang with.   C

Smirking in amusement at what passed for warm affection from Cordelia, he pulled the bottle out. It was black nail varnish. He looked at the note one more time, crumpled it into a ball, put it in the bathroom sink and set it on fire. Afterwards, he rinsed the ashes down the drain then sat down to do his nails, knowing from experience that if he were nude he wouldn't spill a drop, and considered what to wear first from his new wardrobe.

Angel hurriedly rinsed off and dressed, then nonchalantly walked into the lobby looking for Cordelia. He hoped the situation with Wesley had been taken care of but didn't want to count on it without Cordelia's say-so. Cordelia met Angel with a smug smile, which made Angel's hopes where Wesley was concerned soar. He raised one eyebrow in inquiry.

"Yes, we talked. He's still going to want to hear it from you, but I did the whole 'I'm not bothered by this so how can a brave, educated, forceful man like you be?' scene. He fell for it, of course, because I am an actress." Cordelia finished with an exaggerated stage gesture the like of which went out of style before Angelus had regained his soul.

"Don't know what I'd do without you, Cordy . . . and thanks for the shopping expedition. Where is Wesley"?

She looked even more pleased. "On a blood run. You said he hadn't been feeding well, so I figured we should stock up for at least double our usual inventory."

Angel shook his head, bemused. He would never quite get over the flash of astonishment when Cordelia thought about someone other than herself.
"Nice touch, but I don't know how long he'll be staying." Angel lost some of his happiness at the thought of losing his childe again so soon. "We could have a row in the next five minutes, and he might be gone."

Cordelia's look of skepticism was eloquent. "Please! He didn't come all this way on a whim, Angel. Even I know enough about the Big Bad to know he follows through. He may cut to the chase --thank god, otherwise half of Sunnydale would be dead by now, 'moi' included-- but he always finishes what he starts. You should never confuse impatient with unfocussed."

Angel felt the truth of what Cordelia was telling him and wished he had the presence of mind to see it all that clearly. It wasn't news to him: no one knew Spike like he did. After all, he had molded him into the vampire he was today, both by his presence and his absence; soul or no, he knew his childe deep down; it was just the surface layers that occasionally confused him.

At that moment the front door opened, and Wesley appeared with a large insulated box in his arms.
"Could I bother you to take this one, Angel? There's another still in the boot."

Angel relieved him of his burden, waiting for him to return with the rest of the blood. Together they went into the kitchen with the new supplies. Cordelia pointedly stayed behind but crept into earshot, listening.
Angel began putting the blood bags into the refrigerator, carefully placing the oldest blood to the front, the freshest to the rear. He wondered if he was being cowardly or cautious, but he waited for Wesley to begin nonetheless.

Wesley's voice was calm and quiet but somewhat grave, "Cordelia tells me we have a guest, or rather that you do. How long is he staying, if you don't mind my asking?"

Angel carefully hid the smile caused by Wesley's inveterate politeness: Wesley reacted badly to people taking him less than seriously; something he had in common with Spike now that Angel thought about it. Still, translated into non-English verbiage, those sentences were the equivalent of "What the hell do you think you're doing letting that monster anywhere near you, or the rest of us for that matter?", and Angel had to address Wesley's perfectly reasonable concerns with what he feared would be less than comforting answers.

He paused long enough to take the last of the bags from Wesley, put them on the shelf and close the refrigerator door. Gesturing to the kitchen table that he and Spike had sat across last night, Angel and Wesley sat facing one another but on the same side of the table.
"I don't mind your asking, Wesley: I would be disturbed if you didn't. Unfortunately, the answer is I don't know, which is not what you were hoping to hear, I'm sure." Angel's tone was honest, hopeful and placating. "I . . . we . . . there are things . . . ."

Wesley interrupted kindly, "I understand the fundamentals of a Sire/Childe relationship, Angel, and I can't begin to imagine what your soul might have done to complicate that. . . . You see Spike as one of the ones you've wronged, yes?" At Angel's somewhat stunned nod, Wesley continued. "I also know, or at least I think I do, that your demon sees Spike as something like a combination of family and property; it can't have been easy to abandon either of your childer in Romania." Wesley sighed in the familiar, self-depreciating way that indicated he was feeling less than competent at whatever he was attempting to say or do. Deciding he was hiding behind knowledge rather than saying what he felt, he tried another tack.

"Giles told me about the chip some time ago; it seems singularly cruel to me. What is the American legal term, cruel and unusual punishment? At any rate, morally reprehensible: to stake a vampire is one thing, but to cripple it and force it to go against all instincts or eternally starve . . . that's no better behavior than . . ." Wesley trailed off, his face pale with anger and revulsion.

Once he had gathered his equanimity, he lowered his eyes to his hands resting on the table and spoke more firmly; "However, that doesn't mean that I think Spike is, by any stretch of the imagination, harmless. Yes, he can't drain or turn us, but I know his history, Angel. Angelus taught him to be fiendishly inventive and resourceful; that hasn't changed. If anything, his current difficulties will have made those qualities come to the fore; otherwise, he wouldn't have survived. I'm sorry if you feel I'm being harsh, but I believe I am being realistic. Someone has to take the role of the abstract observer here. You, and for that matter Cordelia, are involved."

He looked up at Angel to see his reaction. Angel was smiling as if he were a teacher whose pupil had passed a particularly hard test.
"I'm glad you see that clearly, Wes. Spike should never be underestimated. I can never get . . . the Slayer . . . to understand that." They both grinned wryly at the thought of Buffy's occasional, but legendary, obtuseness. Some of the tension eased out of Wesley's lanky frame, and the sense of comradeship that normally existed between the two of them broke through.

"Cordelia seems oddly fond of him," Wesley observed, "not that she would admit to it. That goes a long way in changing my estimation of this situation. Her survival instincts are as honed as only a Sunnydale childhood, combined with rarified social status, can give you. She informs me that your tête-à-têtes may occasionally get . . . boisterous. May I suggest you hold them in the training room? There's a drain in the floor in there."
Wesley favored him with a helpful, guileless look.

Angel made a noise of disbelief, "Ever practical, Wesley. Don't want to clean up after us, hey? Never mind. I'll clean up my messes where Spike is concerned." Angel paused to look Wesley straight in the eye. ". . . And you can take that in every sense of the expression."

Wesley nodded decisively and rose from the table. Angel reached out and grasped his shoulder, "Are we OK here, Wes"?

Wesley smiled unreservedly, "Yes, Angel. We're . . ." He paused, searching for the right word to describe his assessment. Finally, reflecting that he had lived in California too long, he surrendered to an Americanism, "We're good."

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