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He had turned back from not finding Spike to hear Fred finish the incantation, and from that point on, all had been confusion.
He couldn't work his way through it; it was a net, ensnaring him.
She had said something, and he had to ask for it to be repeated.
'It's done, Angel.'
He'd stared at her, expecting the punch line, the joke.
He'd torn down to security, wanting - needing - to find Wesley still raving, insane, with lust eroding him. Wesley had been dusting down his clothes and avoiding everyone's eyes.
Wesley had asked him something, and once more, confusion made it only a hollow ring in his ears.
He'd nodded, and then the shutters had come down. He'd keep his confusion inside and played the age-old game.
He took off for the day and killed a lot of things that needed killing and some that didn't but hung balanced, like him, on that treacherous edge between good and evil. A day spent killing, but the net only tightened around him.
He couldn't stay in the apartment and moved into another suite- just to shower and lie on the bed, not sleeping.
The next day, he'd gone to work as usual and accepted the confusion along with the guilt, the fear, the hatred, and all the other (far more evil) emotions that pooled in the depths of his being.
He was weighed down with them; they slopped around in his belly and made him sick, like bad blood.
Spike rolled his eyes when he heard the same knock once more, but said, 'Come in,' without any particular rancour.
Wesley gave him one of his inscrutable smiles and went straight out into the small, enclosed, gloomy courtyard. Spike wandered out with a cigarette in one hand and a beer in the other.
He gave Wesley a quizzical look, but when the human hadn't spoken for some time, said annoyed, 'So?'
'I'm going to ask you out for a drink. I'm just testing the sound of it in my head: trying to decide whether there is any sub-text.'
Spike laughed, genuinely amused.
Wesley smiled back. 'I'm using you, of course- working through some things I don't understand.' He narrowed his eyes as if pondering them then and there. 'Why do I dream of someone called Connor, but think about you on waking?'
Spike pushed off the wall he'd been leaning on and ground out his cigarette. As he passed Wesley, he leant in and said in a low tone, 'Careful, Wesley, early morning thoughts are dangerous ones.'
Wesley gave him a long look, dark blue eyes meeting, and then he put a hand to his throat, taking long, slow breaths as if somehow, at Spike's words, his breathing had been restricted.
They walked together to the same bar they'd gone to last time, and relaxed into conversation as easily as before, but every so often, Wesley would put a hand to his throat in an almost unconscious gesture for air.
By the third day Angel had conquered his confusion and was entirely rational once more- for a few hours.
Then the anger began.
He felt had been played: expertly.
His face played in front of his eyes, mocking him, playing on the weakness created by the spell.
The perfect revenge, and his childe had been handed it on a plate. Spike didn't need to defeat him physically - the obsession that had plagued their whole acquaintance - he'd done it from the inside now. He'd gained emotional victory, so that every time Spike looked at him now, they'd both know what he'd be thinking, what he'd be remembering, and that lazy smirk would spread….
Angel hurled an axe into his couch as if taking off an imaginary head. He straightened his shoulders and noticed a secretary watching him from the lobby. He gritted his teeth and went into his conference room out of sight.
Two days later, the confusion returned, but this time it was not about his feelings - they were utterly under control, locked down with older, more evil ones - it was about Spike.
Now, he was not so sure that Spike had played him, and that was the most confusing thought of all. He retuned to his own apartment, and then the truth of this new realisation threatened to overwhelm him.
The books mocked him from the bed.
He knew that Spike had not been faking.
It occurred to Angel, for the first time, as he stared down at the bed that the spell may not have been intended to reveal his feelings, but Spike's, and that in this, the demon had won his ultimate revenge.
For the first time, Angel acknowledged that Spike's feelings for him were very different from those his childe had ever admitted.
Hours passed as Angel roamed over their long relationship in his mind, trying to see connections, threads.
He closed his eyes and felt the anger return: for Spike, for him. He had not asked to have this new knowledge, and he was pretty sure that Spike had not wanted his true feelings to be so exposed.
Finally, the next morning, still staring at the bed, Angel decided what to do.
He packed the books back into the box. He carried it down to his office and sat at his desk with his chequebook. He was generous. It would be enough for him to start again somewhere new.
Finally, he pulled out a sheet of his expensive, new paper. It seemed faintly appropriate to write such a letter with its hated letterhead staring back at him.
He unscrewed his pen top and wrote Spike followed by a comma. It was a good start and he eyed it, pleased with his letter so far.
We both know that you have to leave L.A. now. We had an uneasy balance, which is there no longer. Cash the check. Don't let your pride make this situation worse. In a weird kind of way, I wish you well. It's not easy to be souled in a world of the damned.
He didn't read it back, but folded the cheque inside and put the slip of paper in the box. When it was done, he buzzed Harmony.
She came in with a sly grin, and he gave her a look to freeze the dead.
'Do you know where Spike's living?'
'Ooo, house-warming pressie. How sweet, Angel!'
'Is that a yes or a no, Harmony?'
'It's a: of course!'
'Have this mailed to him.'
She picked it up sauntered out to her desk.
Angel watched through the glass as she made a phone call. He watched her fiddling with the edges of the box, curious, and then saw her cast him an uneasy glance and seal it up with tape immediately. He saw the mailman arrive with his wagon. He watched it being loaded and trundled out of sight.
He caught the startled mailman just before he reached the next floor, removed the box and rode down in the elevator, wondering which of the myriad of emotions he'd been struggling with over the past week was now driving him. He decided it was guilt, and that small revelation did not make his drive over to the address on the box very pleasant.
He sat in the car, looking over at the old house with another very considerable swell of guilt burning in his belly. With a curse, he ripped the box open and withdrew the folded paper, stuffing it in his pocket.
Trying not to think any more, he went up to the imposing front door and knocked.
He heard a number of chains and locks being undone, and then a withered, but elegant face peered suspiciously around the door. When she saw him, some animation crept into her face.
Angel glanced down at the address on the box at his feet and said half-angrily, driven by embarrassment, 'I'm looking for someone called….'
Angel felt odd acknowledging this, but just nodded once.
A broad smile illuminated the elderly face, but instead of letting him in, she waved toward a side-path. 'He has his own entrance. It's easier for him. Shadier.'
Angel wasn't listening; he was already considering climbing back into the safety of his car and leaving.
With a nod of thanks at the old lady, he hefted the box once more and pushed through the undergrowth to the path she had indicated.
Once more, he knocked.
This time, he heard distinct laughter, and Spike called out, 'Hang on.'
Angel frowned and knocked again.
Spike pulled the door open, still looking back into the room, laughing at something.
Wesley was sitting in an armchair dressed in old jeans and a sweater. The floor was littered with empty bottles and boxes from a take-out, the coffee table with cards. He appeared to have interrupted a poker game.
Angel's emotions swirled so forcibly, they rose in his throat, and he had to swallow the burning mass down, leaving his throat hoarse for a moment.
He's stealing Spike from you, too.
Angel flicked his head as if a voice had actually spoken in his ear. He let the box of books drop and turned, pushing his way through the undergrowth. Everything he had planned to say dissipated on that whisper of malice.
He felt a hand on his shoulder, but shrugged it off.
He turned. Spike had followed him out, bare-foot, arms wrapped around his thin frame as if cold after the warmth of the fire or the better company inside.
The vomit still burnt Angel's throat, and he feared speaking less his hoarseness be mistaken, but he forced out, 'You need to leave L.A.'
Something flashed in Spike's eyes, but he said calmly, 'Come inside, Angel.'
As he spoke, Wesley appeared at the door, a little unsteadily, and he nodded at them both. 'I'll be on my way.'
Spike gave him a glance. 'Re-match tomorrow?'
Even without seeing Angel's expression, Wesley had the sense not to reply to this. He pressed past them both, Angel not giving an inch on the path, and left.
Without waiting to see if Angel followed, Spike returned to his apartment. He began to tidy mindlessly, his thoughts on other things than empty bottles and half-eaten Chinese.
He knew when Angel entered; the temperature seemed to lower.
Angel dropped the box onto the couch and went to stand by the windows, frowning at the small courtyard, reminded of another time and another place.
Spike opened the box and let out a small breath. 'Ah.'
Angel shrugged. 'They're yours. I don't want them.'
Trying to ignore the memories sparked by the sight of the gifts from another, better time, Spike picked up a grocery bag and came toward Angel, holding it out.
'These are yours. I don't want them either.'
Angel took the bag with some trepidation and looked in to see folded denim. Connor, so recently conjured in his mind when he'd seen Wesley, he clenched his jaw and turned back to the window. 'I want you to leave L.A.'
'I tried to stop it going too far, Angel. I tried. I knew this would happen….'
Angel whirled around, and Spike - caught unprepared, trying to be conciliatory and calm - took an immediate step back. That he regretted this small defeat was evident in his expression.
Angel came forward and seemed to be trying to dominate with his size and the power of his presence. 'This isn't about ME! This isn't about how I feel! I don't feel anything! This is about you!' He seemed to be trying to calm down and turned back to the window. 'We both know how you feel about me now….'
'Whoa! Hold on! No! No, no, no. You've got this all wrong!' Spike went the window and tried to get Angel to look at him. 'I don't feel shit for you. My God, your arrogance is outstanding! You're an uptight, humourless, selfish sod, Angel, who's done nothing but make my life miserable. I have feelings for the Angel who liked and wanted me! I have feelings for spell-boy! And he's not you!'
Angel turned, the truth of Spike's words hitting him. For all his confusion, for all the warring emotions he'd struggled with, this had not occurred to him.
Suddenly, his shoulders sagged. He felt a huge weight on them, crushing him.
He closed his eyes for a moment and nodded. 'Okay. We both know where we stand then.'
When he opened his eyes, Spike was regarding him closely, but he veiled his look as soon as he saw Angel watching him. He nodded and turned away. 'Let yourself out, Mate.'
He flung himself onto the couch, put his feet up on the coffee table and picked a book out of his box, ignoring Angel totally.
'Are you going to leave L.A?'
Spike turned his head theatrically, as if surprised Angel was still there. 'No.'
Angel gritted his teeth.
Spike turned back to his book and murmured, 'Why don't you leave if you're so keen on the idea.'
Angel came closer. 'This is my city, Spike. You have no reason to be here now.'
'Oh, I don't know. Nice new place, nice new friends.'
'Wesley?' The name came out as if Angel was spitting poison, and Spike turned, his eyes widening.
'Jesus! What's with you?'
'I don't want you to see him.'
A stunned silence fell in the room, Angel as surprised as Spike; it wasn't what he'd intended to say at all.
Suddenly, he spun on his heel and left, slamming the door just hard enough to make some ancient plaster flake from the ceiling and fall through the air like snow in summer.
The next day, Angel looked up from some paperwork he wasn't really reading to see Spike in the lobby talking to Harmony. He began to rehearse the speech he'd prepared, fingering the cheque that was still in his pocket, but was disconcerted when Wesley appeared, putting on his jacket. He greeted Spike, and they both went into the elevator.
He came out of his office and gave Harmony some instructions. He chatted to a few people passing by and then said casually, 'Where was Wesley going? With Spike?'
Harmony put on her having-to-think-hard-now face then brightened. 'Ooo, I know the answer to this one: a strip joint.'
Angel's eyes widened, but before he could comment, she added, 'Or maybe Spiky was joking.'
'Why are they going anywhere?'
Angel was fairly sure Harmony hadn't meant this small sound to mean what business of yours is it what they do? but Angel heard this in the small interrogative nevertheless.
Angel looked back at Harmony. He'd forgotten she was there. 'What?'
'Wesley has filled in his appointments.' She turned her screen for him to look. She gave him a bright jeez, now I'm actually being helpful look and added, 'They're probably buying some new things for the apartment. Have you seen it? Great bed.'
'You've been there?'
'Well, duh. Are you coming to the party?'
'Yeah. House-warming. Saturday. God, I love parties.'
'No. I haven't been invited.'
'Bummer.' She went happily back to painting her nails.
By late afternoon, they were back. Angel tracked their progress across the lobby, righteous anger making him feel pleasantly mean.
He strode into Wesley's office and smiled inwardly when he saw the human's slightly shifty look.
Wesley seemed to sense that this was meant ironically and didn't reply. Spike got up from where he was perched on the desk and said flatly, 'I'll be off. Thanks for the help.' He strolled past Angel then, timing it to perfection, turned and said off-hand to Wesley, 'Tonight?'
Wesley nodded, his eyes still on Angel.
Angel smiled and said, 'Stay. This concerns you too, Spike.'
Spike pursed his lips and looked reluctant to obey, but hung in the door anyway.
'I don't pay you, Wesley, to take time off whenever you feel like it.'
Wesley gave him an odd look. 'I'm not sure what part of that to challenge first.'
'You have no sense of responsibility….'
'Angel. Shut up before you say something that you'll regret and that I'll have to act upon. I've been demon hunting- with Spike. We've been trying to find the little bastard that put the spell on us.'
Angel licked his lips. 'Harmony said….'
'I can't help what she said. I'm telling you what we've been doing.'
'That's not what you're going to be doing tonight….'
Wesley came around the desk. 'What is wrong with you, Angel? That's exactly what we're doing tonight!'
Angel felt he was falling badly. He grabbed onto something and levered himself up. 'And I suppose Saturday is demon hunting, too?'
Spike suddenly said, amused, 'No, that's a party. Can we have a pass for the weekend, Daddy?'
He suddenly seemed to regret his choice of words and pushed off the doorframe. 'Shit. Sorry.'
Angel turned, and their eyes met for a moment. Angel saw genuine contrition and confusion in the blue eyes, and he just nodded, running his fingers through his hair. 'Yeah. Okay.' He turned back to Wesley. 'Sorry. I've been on edge.'
Wesley breathed a sigh of relief and nodded. Angel turned and went toward the door.
As he passed, Spike lifted his head and said hesitantly, 'Saturday? Wanna come?'
Angel turned, anger and confusion in his face. Spike suddenly looked equally angry. 'Forget it then! But I would have asked you before this damn spell!'
Once more, Angel felt wrong-footed. He closed his eyes for a moment and then nodded. 'I'm sorry. I don't do parties though.'
When he opened his eyes, he saw Spike smiling broadly. The expression was wiped off quickly, but he said mischievously, 'That's why I'd 'ave asked you. You know how I love making your life miserable.'
With a sense of intense relief, Angel heard the offer in the words: that they could return to what they had been.
He nodded gratefully. 'Well, in that case, I'll come, and I'll enjoy it- just to spite you.'
'Don't forget a pressie, Luv. Something clever and unique.'
This confused Angel; memories of a mall and something cold slipping down his throat, salty and intense, made him look away.
Spike pouted, glanced at Wesley, and left.
He heard soft laughter again as he negotiated the overgrown path, but it was a voice he didn't recognise. He was surprised he could hear at all over the music, which hurt his ears. He glanced up at the façade of the otherwise silent house and wondered how long Spike's occupancy of the intriguing room would be tolerated. When he reached the door, it was wide open- an obvious invitation to the party.
He brushed his shirt down and felt clumsy. He ran his fingers through his hair and felt old. He stepped into the large apartment and immediately wished he hadn't come.
It was full. Strange creatures drifted around, drinking and talking. He swallowed and was about to turn and go when his arm was captured. 'Hi!' Angel smiled at Fred, but hissed, 'Who are all these… freaks?'
She was clearly a little drunk, and replied with a giggle, 'They all work for you, Angel! The whole world works for you now!'
Angel frowned deeply, willing himself to be transported away, and then a drink was thrust into his hand. Lorne patted his arm. 'Sea Breeze. Guaranteed to get you over those and don't I just feel awkward? moments of life. Don't worry, Angel-Pie; they're all more frightened of you than you are of them. You won't actually have to talk to anyone.'
He shrugged them both off and made for the fire, which was burning brightly, despite the heat. All the doors had been opened wide, and the flames seemed to be trying to reach out into the night, to join the dozens of candles that had been placed around the courtyard. Fire and candlelight were the only illumination, and once his sight had adjusted, Angel realised that what he had taken for demonic was human: just drunk, weirdly shadowed, and interestingly dressed.
He scanned the assembled throng, but he could not see the one he refused to admit he was seeking.
Angered, he moved away from the fire and out into the cooler air of the courtyard.
Angel stiffened. He was leaning on the wall off to one side of the glass doors, smoking.
Their eyes met.
Spike smiled, and something in the easy intimacy of that smile made Angel respond in kind.
Spike pushed off the wall. 'I'm glad you came.'
Angel glanced back into the room. 'I had no idea you knew so many people.'
Spike took a drag of his cigarette. 'I don't. Lorne's organized it all.'
Angel felt an odd flood of relief at this, which he couldn't explain. Spike saw his expression and chuckled. 'Feelin' left out?'
Angel decided not to rise to this and answered truthfully. 'Totally. I'm nearly three hundred years old, and I don't know this many people- don't want to.'
'Apparently, if you get a new place, you have to invite people over to trash it; 's customary.'
'You may not be here long.' He glanced at the stereo.
Spike waved his cigarette at one of the chairs next to the fire. 'You think?'
Angel peered through the gloom to see the elderly lady he had spoken to earlier, sipping something from a glass with oddly glowing ice cubes. She had her eyes closed, and her head was nodding slightly to the music. A small, enigmatic smile smoothed her features, the candlelight playing gently over the paper-thin skin.
He looked over at Spike, thoughtfully. Spike came stood alongside him. 'Innocence.'
'That's her name. Angel, she was born in same century I was! She came over on the Titanic. Isn't she… incredible?'
Angel studied him for a moment, and then gave him a genuine smile. 'You live in a house owned by someone called Innocence.'
Spike gave him a small, complicit smile in return and nodded happily. He strolled to a small pond in the gloomiest part of the courtyard and fished out a bottle of wine - one of many that appeared to be stashed there - and topped up his drink. He hesitated then waved it at Angel. After a small glance back into the crowded room, Angel came over, drained his drink, and held out his glass.
Somehow they found themselves sitting together on the edge of the pond, under the cover of a dense Cyprus tree, separated from the activity in the light, drinking wine.
After one bottle had been dispatched, Spike turned his head and said, 'You okay?'
Spike's question made Angel start, but before he could stop himself, he wobbled his hand- an uncharacteristic acknowledgment of his inner turmoil.
Spike nodded. 'I've been thinking… 'bout what you said… going away.'
Angel glanced over at him but did not comment. Spike continued doggedly, 'It makes no sense, does it? I mean me… L.A….'
He trailed off but Angel still made no attempt to help him out.
Spike sighed and topped up their glasses again and then lit a cigarette. Seeing Angel's expression, he offered him one, and it was accepted.
They smoked contentedly, feeling cut off from the noisy events unfolding in front of them. Couples spilled out onto the courtyard, but no one disturbed their quiet retreat.
'This place is perfect.'
Spike smiled, knowing Angel did not mean their small hideaway. 'Yeah. I know.'
'It has soul.'
'It's just the contrast to where you live maybe? How can you stand living in that soulless bloody apartment, Angel? It's not you. You like to have nice things around you, too.'
'It was part of the deal- to keep Connor safe. They want me there.'
Spike narrowed his eyes thoughtfully. 'Connor.'
Angel nodded, sunk in his memories. 'My son. The owner of the jeans.'
Spike's eyes widened fractionally, and he glanced over at the party, looking for Wesley. He tipped his head on one side and said deceptively casually, 'Do mind wipes work forever?'
Angel frowned. 'I guess. Why?'
'Nothing.' Spike topped them up again.
'Shouldn't you join the party?'
Spike shrugged. 'Not really in a party mood, ya know?'
Angel nodded then chuckled ruefully and fished in his pocket. 'Present- as ordered.'
Spike looked intrigued and took the small box. He shook it then held it to his ear. Angel smiled and topped up their drinks.
'What is it?'
'Open it and see.'
Spike hesitated, and Angel laughed again. 'What?'
Spike shrugged. 'First present you've ever bought me.'
Angel balanced his glass on the wall. 'The books?'
'That wasn't you.'
Angel glanced up through lowered lids. 'Just open it, Spike.'
Spike ripped off the paper, removed the lid and pulled out an oddly shaped fragment of glass. He tried to hide his disappointment, but then felt Angel's hand on his. Angel lifted the glass until it was in front of Spike's face.
Spike hissed and almost dropped it. He scrabbled frantically and dropped the box so he could hold it in both hands. 'Angel!'
Angel was watching Spike's face, not the one reflected in the fragment.
Spike looked over to him then suddenly pressed his head against Angel's, crowding them together and looking in the mirror once more. He snagged in his breath at their shared reflections. 'What… where… how…? I mean….'
Angel took the small, broken mirror from him and studied his own face once more. 'I found it in the vaults of Wolfram and Hart one day.'
Spike took it back. 'It's… magic….'
Angel laughed. 'I think rather that we are: not showing up in human ones.'
'Is it our souls that make this work?'
Angel tipped his head on one side and took it back. 'You mean….'
'Would Harmony show up? Or is it just us?'
Angel raised an eyebrow as if the idea intrigued him. 'A mirror made just for us.' He suddenly shivered and handed it back. 'Anyway. Housewarming gift. Sorry it's not full-length.'
At exactly the same time, they both had an image of Spike, standing naked in front of a full-length mirror, never moving, transfixed by the… novelty. Spike elbowed him playfully, grinning. Angel topped up their drinks again as Spike seemed unable to take his gaze off his own reflection. Angel watched him trying out expressions. When he saw he was being watched, Spike pulled them together again, so he could see both their reflections once more. 'Maybe humans wouldn't show up. That would be cool.'
Angel chuckled. 'Freak them out for once.'
Angel's cheek felt cool and smooth against his. He could smell the nicotine and wine. In the mirror, he could see their mouths close together. He saw in the reflection that Angel was studying him. Watching his own mouth move as he talked, he said softly, 'If you want me to go, I will.'
Angel put his hand up and tilted the mirror slightly. 'Why do I want you to leave?'
Spike pulled away and laid the mirror carefully back in its box, looking at Angel with a frown.
Angel looked down at his glass then topped them both up again. 'It implies there is some reason I don't want you here….'
Spike said helpfully, 'Cus you don't like me?'
Angel looked thoughtful. 'But I don't like most people. But you're the only one I want to leave.'
'Yeah, but they don't know just how to niggle you like I do… decades of practice, yeah?' As if to illustrate his point, he suddenly put his hand up and flattened Angel's hair a little. Immediately, Angel grabbed the mirror and checked it with a small curse.
'I'm surprised you can bear to give that to me.'
'I didn't like my reflection very much.'
Spike sighed. 'So. Go or stay?'
Angel let his eyes roam over the house. 'It doesn't like the party. It wants to be quiet.'
Spike nodded, pleased. 'You sense it, too. It likes the dead, I think. It's easy in our company.'
Angel put his head down in his hands and stayed that way for some time. Spike was about to return them to his question when the overhanging branches parted, and a familiar, green figure pushed through. 'Well, aren't we the party-poopers? Is this little private party limited to the dead, or can anyone join in?'
Angel sighed and lifted his head.
Spike rose and picked up his gift carefully. He looked at Lorne and then at the house behind them. 'This was all a waste of good alcohol. Apparently, I'm leaving L.A after all.'
Angel rose and took the box from him. 'No. This has to stay here- condition of the gift.'
Spike started to look angry, but then he hesitated and looked more closely at Angel's expression. He ducked his head with a shy smile and let out a small breath. 'Okay.'
Angel chuckled and handed the box back, leaving with Lorne. Spike watched his retreating back with more confusion than he had felt when he knew Angel was only acting under the influence of the spell.
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