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     Their days fell into somewhat of a routine: sparring and interacting with Wesley and Cordelia during the days, killing things and fucking during the nights. They even occasionally went out to Caritas for a drink; Spike loved to make fun of the karaoke singers, although Angel, with some difficulty, convinced him to do it quietly. He claimed that he could do a much better job of it, but before Angel could get him on stage, Spike figured out Lorne's unique abilities and adamantly refused to even think about singing whilst in his vicinity. It was a minor disappointment for Angel but one he easily shrugged aside.

Unfortunately, there were other disappointments that were not so easily filed away: Spike seemed more at ease with Wesley and Cordelia than he did with Angel at times. Even with all the shared intimacies, Angel thought Spike just never quite relaxed when they were around each other, except in the heat of passion. It gnawed at Angel like a hunger pang: it could be forcibly ignored, but it never went away. He told himself that the passage of time would take care of it, but it was getting harder to think it with much conviction. He had a sense that something was wrong but no clue what it could be, and Spike, typically, refused to acknowledge any of it.

Cordelia watched the two vampires with a great deal of interest. Angel was more at ease, occasionally teasing her and smiling spontaneously. It was quite a contrast to the forced conversations they used to have when Angel was trying to "socialize with the humans." Spike puzzled her though. She could see that he was happy and that, whatever you wanted to call what he and Angel had, Spike felt it deeply, but he tensed up when Angel unexpectedly came into the room, and he maintained an emotional distance that even Cordelia (who had no problem admitting she was not the most intuitive person where others' emotions were concerned) could easily observe. She also noticed that Angel, whom she figured had to have noticed if she had, acted as if it didn't exist. She wanted to grab Angel and ask him what was going on, but every time she came close, some deeply self-preserving part of her brain convinced her that playing "Dear Abbey" to a couple of until-recently estranged vampires was not the most healthy thing that she could do. Still, it didn't stop her from watching and trying to figure it out; it was better than watching the soaps.

Wesley, on the other hand, was entirely encouraged by the progress that both Spike and Angel seemed to be making. If there was still some tension and emotional distance between them, Wesley, being English, saw it as neither an odd thing necessarily nor as something that needed to be either discussed or fixed. After all, he reasoned, Spike and Angel were essentially English (Angel's ancestry and current accent aside, he had lived in England longer than most men born there) and they were not only men but vampires to boot. A certain amount of reticence seemed not only natural but also comforting, as far as he was concerned. While apparently he couldn't stop thinking about the two of them together, he didn't want to add fuel to the fire by seeing them "in flagrante delicto" in various places around the hotel.

Spike seemed to be uncannily aware of his thoughts on the matter, dropping little details, and taking every opportunity (it seemed to Wesley) to brush up against him as he passed by. He told himself that the vampire's all too casual remarks, laden with innuendo, were the root of the problem; certainly not any physical attraction he might feel for the two admittedly devastating vampires. Wesley clung to the idea that he would become accustomed to the sight of them and to the not so subtle sexual current that exuded from them like a magnetic field . . . eventually.

Spike waited, constantly on guard against the emotions that at first seemed non-existent. Angel, more often than not, was happy to let Spike take the role of aggressor when it came to sex, and when he insisted on being the top; his actions were so far from domineering that no repeats of the episode in the kitchen were forthcoming. Spike found it astonishingly pleasant to be the focus of Angel's attentions. He knew on some level that Angel was treating him as if they were romantically, as well as physically, involved, and while he had thought that it would unnerve him to be treated similarly to how Angel undoubtedly had treated Buffy, he found instead that he could revel in it as long as he avoided giving name to it. As a result to hear him talk, he and Angel were just fucking, but Spike knew that Angel, at least, was making love, and as long as Angel didn't expect Spike to admit it out loud, that was all right.

What weren't all right were the slips that had recently been drawn to Spike's attention. He didn't think Angel had noticed yet, but inevitably he would. Spike grasped that he was pushing Angel during the workouts, trying to make him mad, and also putting himself into situations where Angel ended up wrestling him to the ground. If it had simply been a way to stop exercising and start shagging then everything would have been fine, because that is what it usually led to. However, what Spike had finally admitted to himself was, when the aggression stopped and the shagging started, there was a part of Spike that was disappointed, saddened even. Worse, it was becoming harder to hide it from Angel.

He found that what he really wanted was for Angel to pin him down and take him forcefully like something out of the plot of a bad romance novel; the possibility that he was watching too many soaps with Cordelia aside, it was a truth that Spike was finding a wee bit too girly to contemplate. He was either turning into a woman or a sniveling fledge that felt the need to be shown his place. The former was right out of the question, and the latter seemed well nigh ludicrous for a vampire that had passed his century mark some time ago. He truly wanted Angel: he didn't want Angelus. At first maybe, he was not quite sure on that point, but now . . . hell, if the soul was lost forever, he'd happily stake the old bastard and Bob's your uncle.

Moreover, he didn't want to give Angel any notion that he in any way preferred Angelus to the soul. He had enough of a time keeping him from brooding without adding that little bit of kindling to the flames. So . . . Spike was tense and distant, that he could cope with, but he was also slowly unraveling at the seams, and that could mean an end to everything that he and Angel had found together. It made Spike want to get drunk enough to cry, but he couldn't do that either: he was too close to the edge.

     Wesley was alternating between annoyance and bemusement; it soon became clear that Spike did not want to talk about the chip in front of Angel, but Angel would not stay away from Spike long enough for Wesley to break through Spike's habitual personal reticence and have a meaningful conversation. He and Angel, for the sake of their own comfort, pretended that the research Wesley had obtained on the effects of different sorts of blood on vampires' feeding had come from the Watcher's Council. Wesley knew, and was sure Angel suspected, that it had in fact come from the remains of the Initiative. Wesley had obtained it on the black market, where his contacts let it be widely known that he collected unusual information on occult subjects in general but on vampires in particular. Most of what surfaced was dross, but occasionally a gem glittered from the mire. There was even a partial document or two that he thought might pertain to the type of chip Spike had implanted in his head.

Hence, Wesley's desire to discuss it and also his continued search for more of the same type of illicit information. He concluded that he would have to take Spike somewhere away from the Hyperion, and convince Angel to stay behind, in order to make any headway on his quest. Perhaps an evening at Caritas, where even Angel would have to admit they would be safe, would suffice. Now, all Wesley had to do was decide whether the plain truth or manipulation would be the best way to handle Angel. Concluding that he hadn't the slightest idea, he resolved to consult Cordelia, who seemed to handle Angel better than any of them.

Cordelia, ever one to turn a situation to her advantage, told Angel that everyone needed a break and that he was taking her to the theater whilst Wesley was taking Spike to a pub in a kind of Englishmen's night out. When Angel raised his predictable objections about the safety of a drunken Spike --surrounded by humans and unlikely to watch his smart mouth-- Cordelia countered with the Caritas option, and Angel had to reluctantly acquiesce.

Spike watched Angel's humans handle the vampire with considerable amusement: thinking facetiously that he should have gotten some of them years ago, if they were this handy. On the appointed night, he met Wesley in the lobby, and they waited to compliment a preening Cordelia before a tuxedoed Angel escorted her out the door. Angel had even sprung for a limo for her and given his car keys to Wesley: mainly because he didn't want Spike and Wesley running around town on Wes's motorcycle. Especially since he was sure there was no way Spike would consent to wearing the dreaded pink helmet.

Once settled at a side table in Caritas, Wesley pulled a notebook out and opened it on the table. Spike looked at it wryly.

"Any one ever tell you that you take this learning stuff too seriously, Wes?" He asked good-naturedly.

"Many, many people, Spike," Wesley said gravely, then smiled.

It did not take long before the Host joined them, with two pints of stout in hand.
"Guys' night out, fellas?" He added, cheerfully, "Thought you expats might want some real beer."

Wesley murmured his agreement, as Spike downed half of his pint in one go. Lorne's eyebrows rose in mock astonishment.

"Hey, big fella, I know vamp physiology is something to write home about, but take it easy. There's more where that came from."

Spike looked up to see if there was an underlying dig, but Lorne had already moved on to questioning Wesley about an earlier conversation between the two of them, so he turned his attention back to his drink. In a moment of careless savoring, he thoughtlessly hummed his appreciation of the nostalgic brew and was distracted by Lorne's immediate intake of breath and recoil. Spike met Lorne's red eyes challengingly.

"Easy, Puddin'" Lorne placated, "that was just between you and me . . . and I don't mean the April Wine song. Still, I can see you two have more going here than a few pints. Would you like a bit more privacy?"

Wesley thought he saw a lessening of tension on Spike's face, so he nodded.
"That would be wonderful, Lorne, if it's not too much trouble."

"Hey," Lorne replied, "What could be too much trouble for the Number One Sidekick and the Favorite Childe of our local Dark Avenger? This way."

Spike snorted at Lorne's caricature of Angel and Wesley, avoiding what he'd said about him. Deciding, as he followed the demon, that anyone who wryly referred to Angel as a comic book hero was probably a good bloke.

Lorne took them to what was obviously his living room, told them to feel at home and occasionally reappeared with a fresh pitcher of stout, but uncharacteristically didn't try to chat or otherwise interrupt them.

Wesley had Spike start with the story of how he had gotten the chip, then they moved to descriptions of the incidents where it had activated, and what exactly Spike and the humans involved had been doing, all the while taking copious notes. Spike had expected to feel uncomfortable talking about what he viewed as his weakness, and if Wesley had been sympathetic, he might well have been. However, initially Wes was very detached and businesslike, and eventually, instead of pitying him, it became clear to Spike that Wesley was increasingly angered by what he was learning. Between that and the ever-larger amount of beer he was downing, Spike began to feel quite warmly towards the man that he thought of as Angel's pet watcher.

Eventually, one of Lorne's trips to replenish the beer and one of Wesley's trips to get rid of it coincided. Spike cocked an eyebrow at the tall, green demon and nodded towards a seat.

"You and I have summat to talk about, Mate." Spike opened quietly.

Lorne, realizing that the vampire was trying his best not to sound threatening, forcibly relaxed and smiled inquiringly.

"That little ditty I hummed," Spike prompted. "What do you know?"

Lorne sighed with relief, as he figured out that Spike mistakenly thought he was a mind reader.
"It doesn't work like that, sugar. I read your soul, not your mind."

"I don't have a soul," Spike bit out.

"Soul, demon, whatever," Lorne temporized, "I leave the metaphysics to the professionals. Put it this way, all I see is where your path is, or sometimes needs to be, leading you." He paused to see if Spike had any questions. At the vampire's curt nod, he continued, "It looks to me like you've set upon a path of reconciliation, and I've got nothing to tell you to do any different. My gift tells me that you're headed in the right direction . . . for both of you. Personally speaking, the big lug could use someone in his life, and I, for one, am glad to see you fit the bill."

Spike nodded, as if considering an agreeable thing. Looking over, he said brightly, "Guess I don't have to kill you then, Ducks."

Lorne rose to leave, saying, "I'm glad we agree on that, Lean, Blonde and Handsome."

"Right." Spike halted him. "If Angel needs to know. . . . If he asks. . . . You can tell him I'm on the level. As long as you don't. . . . No details. Right, Mate? That goes for his pets, too."

Lorne smiled. "You got it. Monets, not photos. Understood."

Waiting until Lorne was almost to the door, Spike said, "Mate?" Lorne froze but didn't turn around. "Favorite Childe?"

Lorne silently whistled. "I was kind of hoping you missed that."

Spike's rejoinder was hushed. "I don't miss much when it comes to himself."

Lorne turned to smile, somewhat sadly, at Spike. "No, I suppose that's true. I can't elaborate; you know that. Are we at contretemps, Childe of Angelus?"

Spike relaxed back into his chair. "Impressionists always were my favorite school." He replied obliquely. Humming softly, Lorne left the room.

Once Wesley had finished with his questions, he and Spike moved back into the bar and companionably drank a final pitcher of stout. By the time they left Caritas, Wes, who had stayed sober enough to drive, was more than glad he was not trying to balance a drunken vampire on the back of his bike. He dropped Spike off at the front door to the Hyperion and headed home to get what sleep was available before morning came.

Spike staggered into the lobby, not bothering to try to walk in a straight line, and headed for the kitchen. Vampires did not get hangovers, per se, but he knew from experience that if he fed before passing out, the waking up would be much more pleasant. Trying to be silent had not even occurred to him: he had lived in a crypt for so long that noise complaints from neighbors were a distant memory. In retrospect, he might have admitted that he should not have been surprised to see Angel standing in the doorway when he turned around from the microwave, but he was, and it startled him enough to slosh some of the blood over the rim of his mug.

"Bloody hell, Angel. Sneak up on a bloke, why don't you?" He groused, as he raised the mug up to eyelevel and licked the sides of it clean.

Angel stared at him in silence: taken by the sight of that familiar tongue darting out to clean the black porcelain. He unconsciously licked his lips; his already taut nerves becoming more tense at the seductive sight. Spike, focused on drinking his blood and remaining standing, was unaware of the effect it was having on Angel. To be fair, by this point in the evening, almost anything Spike could have done would have had that effect on Angel; he had spent a restless evening in Cordelia's company, struggling to avoid imagining what Spike and Wesley might have been talking about or doing together. Unfortunately for Angel, his imagination so greatly outstripped the reality of the evening that he had been aroused, angry and covetous for most of the night; returning to an empty hotel hours before Spike had not helped the situation.

He normally resisted listening to the reasoning of Angelus' voice, but in this instance, the seductive nature of the attack had winnowed its way into his conscience without much of a fight. He had lay in his bed thinking of all the things he wanted to do to Spike once he had him in his grasp again. He knew that Spike was vampire enough still to be entirely opportunist about sex; he also knew that Wesley's subtle flashes of desire had the effect of a flag in front of a maddened bull for Spike. His Boy loved a challenge: Angelus had made him that way. To awaken Wesley into an awareness of his desire and then to seduce him into indulging in it, would be almost as good as feeding fresh from the source for Spike.

It made Angel salivate to think of it. His childe could be incredibly sexy when he was pursuing prey, which, in Angelus' flashes of imagery, led immediately to memories of Spike when he was sex incarnate, when he was the prey instead of the predator, when he most belonged to his Sire. Angel began to feel a hunger that had nothing to do with blood.

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