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     The next morning, or what served as morning for a vampire, was both familiar and unsettling to them. They awoke almost simultaneously in the mid-afternoon and just lay there relaxing in each other's company and relishing the rare luxury of flesh touching flesh. Spike, true to character, eventually became restless and got up first, leaving Angel to stretch and reflect on the night before. He knew, more than ever, that this had the potential to blow up in their faces at any moment, but he found that while the thought frightened him more than yesterday, he cared less. Almost any risk seemed acceptable when contrasted with the loneliness that had come to characterize his daily existence. He suspected that Spike felt the same, if not worse. Otherwise, he never would have initiated this series of events by showing up in Angel's doorway.

Spike was somewhat surprised, but admittedly relieved, when Angel did not immediately follow him into the bathroom. He enjoyed the time alone, using it to relive some of the sensations he had experienced with his Sire. It troubled him on some level that he was almost unable to think of Angel as anything other than in terms of his Sire. Even when they were doing things outside of the normal bounds of Sire and Childe, he still related to Angel in those terms. He thought that perhaps it was the shared blood with its link to their demons, but knowing he would never really know the answer, he quickly put the quandary aside. One brooding git in the vicinity was more than enough, and Angel clearly had that territory already staked out.

Spike dressed and went downstairs while Angel took his turn in the shower, finding Cordelia and Wesley talking in the lobby. They abruptly left off their conversation to greet him, which he took as a sign that he had been at least part of the previous topic.

"Is Angel up yet?" Wesley asked, genuinely.

Spike wondered if they had been worried about him hurting or staking Angel. He had to acknowledge that it was in the realm of possibilities from their point of view. It kind of made their coming into work seem like an act of bravery. He smiled in his most reassuring manner.
"Yeah, he's in the shower. Be down in a few, I'd say."

Cordelia shot an I-told-you-so look at Wesley and turned to say something to Spike, but as her mouth opened, she clutched at her head and crumpled. Spike automatically caught her and sank to the floor, cradling her in his arms. At that moment, Angel came down the stairs.

Spike looked up, bewildered. "It wasn't me, Mate. She just sorta folded."

Angel spared Spike a smile, as he knelt and brushed Cordy's hair from her face.
"It's alright, Spike. She's just having a vision. She'll be fine in a minute."

Cordelia interrupted him, weakly. "Fine is a matter of opinion; my head is killing me . . . as usual." She pulled herself up from Spike's lap and continued in a stronger voice. "No research required, guys. Vampire nest. They look like newbies --no retro outfits-- maybe eight or ten of them. Close to a park . . . some sort of posters . . . a charity carnival, maybe? Over by Grove. We have until tonight to find them."

Wesley returned with a glass of water and some pills. When Cordelia pulled her hands away in order to take them, Spike was startled to find he had been still holding and stroking them. He supposed it had thrown him back to the days of taking care for Dru, but her visions were never painful . . . frightening perhaps but she never hurt like Cordelia obviously did.

Meanwhile, Angel was secretly pleased on several levels. When he had come down the stairs and seen Spike cradling Cordelia and running a soothing hand over her back while holding her hands, he too had been reminded of Drusilla, but more importantly, he had seen Wesley take it in stride, leaving her in Spike's care while he went after her painkillers. He was also happy that the opportunity to include Spike in his work had come so quickly. He knew from talking to Giles that violence against demons had become a major outlet for his childe since the chip, and he was hoping to encourage that behavior in a controlled manner. Of course, the thought of hunting with his childe at his side --even hunting their own kind-- was seductive in a variety of ways.

Wesley went out into the day and found the park where the carnival was scheduled that evening then scouted the surrounding area for likely vampire lairs. Fortunately, this time, there was only one abandoned building in the general vicinity, and there were signs, easily overlooked by the ignorant, that bespoke of vampire inhabitance: every single window was boarded shut, not one board out of place; the stoop was not dirty, there were signs of steady traffic; and the electricity had been unofficially reconnected, the seals pried off and then mashed back down with vampiric strength.

When evening grew closer, Spike was surprised, and somewhat amused, to see Wesley change into leather pants and jacket and arm himself as if to join the fight. He caught Angel's attention silently and jerked his head in Wesley's direction.
"He fights? Do I need to keep an eye out for him"?

Angel glanced at Wes, smiling at Spike's protective nature. It appeared that his childe had already adopted his employees.
"Try to stay aware of his situation, but it's not like he's Xander. He can fight, but he'll bite off more than he can chew, if he thinks someone is in danger. He's saved me more than once though. Don't under-estimate him." Angel paused then smiled knowingly. "Kind of like someone else I know," he gently teased.

Spike grinned, "The Slayer, you mean"? He purposely misunderstood Angel's meaning.

Angel's eyes lit with humor. "Yeah, Spike, the Slayer." Without thinking, he reached out and pulled Spike into him, kissing him deeply but quickly. Spike glanced aside as they separated noting that, while Cordelia's back had been turned, Wesley had seen the intimate gesture. Angel returned to donning his weaponry, oblivious to giving away the nature of their reunion. Spike turned and looked Wesley straight in the eye then cocked an eyebrow in a silent but eloquent question.

Wesley returned Spike's gaze evenly, pursing his lips slightly as if considering, then backed into his office holding eye contact until he saw Spike begin to follow. Spike entered the office, curious and impressed that Wesley had turned and was offering his back to him. It was a gesture of trust that he was quite sure was intentional. He had noticed that the ex-Watcher rarely left himself in an indefensible position, even with Angel. Spike paused, close enough to talk quietly but far enough not to infringe on the human's personal space, waiting. Wesley sighed in a drawn, measured fashion and turned to face the vampire.

"He doesn't even realize he did that in front of us, does he?" Wesley's calm observation caught Spike off guard: he had been prepared for a right earful.

"'S right, Mate. What of it?" Spike replied calmly but firmly.

Wesley's tongue appeared briefly between his lips as he sighed. "I'm not a fool, Spike. I know . . . well, I assumed that your relationship would be . . . physical. I just thought it would take longer for him to tell us."

Spike inhaled slightly, confirming Wesley's discomfort and arousal. "You're not far wrong. He hasn't told you, has he? He's just. . . ." Spike dwindled off searching for the right word.

"Needy?" Wesley supplied. At Spike's immediate look of fury, Wesley took a half step back before he caught himself and stopped. "I just meant that he has been alone a long time, Spike. Having you here is probably just what he needs."

Spike noted that Wesley's observation held a tone of recognition in it. He thought, "Takes one to know one, yeah Wes?" and wondered if Wesley's discomfort was caused by the physical aspect of he and Angel's relationship or by Wesley's arousal at the thought of it. Either way, the man was as much of a sad git as Angel, if not more. Filing that train of thought away to pursue another time, Spike stepped close enough to Wesley to feel his breath.

"Whatever this thing is between him and me, it's mutual. That enough for you, Human?"

Wesley vibrated with the effort it took not to show Spike fear by stepping away and considered the concession he had just been given. In two sentences, the vampire had indicted that the relationship was not resuming the traditional Sire/Childe pattern, that the desire to attempt it was shared and that Spike, while considering Wesley merely human and therefore lesser, acknowledged his right to ask for information. He relaxed a fraction and answered, "Thank you, Spike. That's quite adequate."

Spike (more than a little impressed by the bollocks he had shown in standing his ground) smirked, ruffled Wesley's hair, and returned to the lobby. Wesley stood dumbstruck by the casual gesture; flooded with the knowledge that Spike thought (and perhaps Angel thought, too?) that Wesley and Cordelia belonged to Angel and were consequently to be tolerated, and in some cases indulged, as if they were part of the vampire's family. He had often thought of Angel as being part of his and Cordelia's family, in a human sense, but never before had he entertained the idea that in a vampiric sense, they were part of Angel's family, albeit closer to a faithful servant or, more likely, a pet. Shaken out of his reverie by Angel calling his name, he joined the two vampires. The three of them headed for the basement tunnel access and the long walk through the sewers to the targeted vampire lair.

     Spike had thoroughly enjoyed cleaning out the lair, which had proved to be full of little more than fledges. The eldest of them could not have been more than five years old and had either been made sloppily or by someone who had intentionally kept him from rising at the full power of a blood childe. It was a good fight, and he was impressed to see that Wesley more than held his own, making about twenty percent of the kills. They left the building, wandering through and around the carnival in the park to make sure that the entire problem had been dealt with, but they had taken the lair right before sunset, and no other vampires appeared. Once the charity event shut down, cognizant that no one walks the streets in L.A., they re-entered the sewers, wending their way home.

Angel looked on fondly as Spike ranged ahead, walking backwards to talk with them, stopping to let them catch up, reenacting sequences of the battle and in general, acting like he was playing some sort of demented cross between charades, follow-the-leader and tag. Giles was right: Spike loved the fighting. Of course, Will had loved the fighting, too, but Angel wondered how much of that had been true affinity and how much the desire to please Angelus.

Wesley, too, seemed caught up in Spike's enthusiasm. Encouraged, no doubt, by a blow-by-blow description Spike gave of one staking of Wesley's that he thought particularly inspired. Angel often forgot to praise Wesley after the fact. Whether he omitted it because he had been too busy to notice or simply too grateful that Wes's all-too-fragile human body had survived another encounter didn't really matter. What mattered was that Wesley needed the affirmation, and Angel didn't always provide it. It was an unexpected bonus of Spike's presence, that embodiment of humanity that his vampiric nature had never completely obscured.

The three warriors parted in the lobby: Wesley to call Cordelia and report in, the two vampires to the kitchen to feed. Wesley called out his goodbyes as the vampires' meal finished warming. Hungry and still buzzed from the excitement, Spike gulped the warm blood, spilling a little from the side of his mouth to run down his chin.

Angel set down his empty mug, a shiver running down his spine at the sight of Spike's bloodstained face. Moving impetuously, Angel pinned him against the counter and licked the blood off his chin before immobilizing his head and delving into a forceful and uncompromising kiss. The blood in his veins surged wildly as his every motion clamored the word "Mine."

Spike couldn't believe the passion that roiled through him as Angel took what he wanted; it surpassed anything he remembered feeling . . . ever. He struggled against the implacable hold, but Angel was giving no quarter. The last time Spike had felt so overwhelmed was on the night he had been made, and the similarity between those emotions and these left him paralyzed and increasingly horrified at his reaction. He wanted to prostrate himself on Angel's alter, a willing sacrifice for whatever his Sire exacted. He was stunned and more than a little frightened by the need he felt for his Sire to control and possess him. Suddenly, the independent, strong vampire that met Angel on equal terms had evaporated under the heat of one all-consuming, blood-tinged moment.

Angel relaxed his hold on Spike as the blood lust faded to a level that was easier to control. Seized with the desire to be rid of the confines of their clothing, he all but ran to his room, dragging Spike by the hand behind him. Once they reached the bed, Angel started to strip but noticed that Spike was just standing there swaying as if in a daze.
"Strip," he commanded urgently in a voice as close to Angelus' as to make no matter. Spike's entire body jerked as if lashed with a whip, but he undressed and crawled into the bed after Angel. Now that they were skin to skin, Angel's urgency eased, and he pulled Spike close to him, cuddling into his body and reveling in the contact.

Spike, meanwhile, felt as if one hundred years of personality were deconstructing before his eyes. Surely this yen for Angel's dominant behavior was a fluke, some sort of leftover fledgling reaction rather than a true indication of the vampire he was today. Angel was not his Sire, not entirely at any rate, so where did this undeniable response come from? Spike could feel minute tremors running throughout his entire body, as if every muscle had been worked to its limit and beyond. He wanted to jump up and run far away from this confusion, but the knowledge that he would only carry the emotions with him, and the fear of his reaction should Angel physically stop him, kept him in place. He had never thought of himself as acquiescent, but at that moment all he could do was lie next to Angel and wait.

Angel was so enrapt by then that he hadn't really noticed how still Spike had become. His focus was on another matter entirely. Angelus had always taken Will. Angel wanted this new thing that they were attempting to be as equitable as possible. He also had to admit to himself that, all fairness aside, he wanted to feel Spike inside him, wanted to experience the joys of that side of the game. To him, it had nothing to do with dominance or submission, although admittedly those issues were inevitably raised, nor did it have to do exclusively with trust, although that too wove through the heart of it like a vein through marble. No, it was the craving for union, a gift rather than a prize, which drove him to hazard the act. He buried his face in Spike's neck, thrilling at the uncontrolled response it engendered. Licking up his neck, Angel breathed softly into his ear with warm, damp puffs.

"I want you to do something for me," Angel said, running the tip of his tongue over Spike's earlobe.
"Fuck me, Spike. Please."

If Angel had asked for a holy water enema, Spike would not have been more surprised. So wrapped in dealing with his unexpected reaction to Angel's forceful behavior, he hadn't registered the subsequent way Angel had only been nestling against him. It was an idea that had made an appearance or two in Spike's late night fantasy review, but never in a way that even entertained the thought that it might actually happen. In a moment of hindsight, it dawned on him that before, when he had impaled himself on Angel's cock, the look of surprise he had fleetingly seen could have been because Angel had expected to be the one penetrated. Spike pulled away from Angel so that he could look deep into his eyes. Trying for nonchalance, his thick voice gave him away.
"You sure about that, Mate?"

Angel smiled: the relaxed way a man who knows he is about to get what he wants smiles.
"More than sure. I want you." He raised his head far enough to lightly kiss Spike's lips. "Any way you want, however you want. Just take me. Please." Spike snapped out of his self-induced daze. Whatever the reason behind his reactions in the kitchen, the vampire who was for all intents and purposes his Sire had just pleaded with him, twice, to be the aggressor in this liaison. Taunted by the feeling that this would not last, that it was an Angelus-like trick to which there was no correct response, Spike determined to take advantage of Angel's mood while it lasted. If he ended up being punished for this later, so be it. It would be worth it.

♦ 6 ♦