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The Darkling Plain
'You're….' Spike lowered his voice and tried again. 'You're….'
'Oh, sure. I'm dead.' He took a step forward. Spike jumped back then seemed to remember that he was a demon and also dead, and stood his ground. Nate came up to him and touched him sadly. Spike didn't even bother to look down: he knew he'd not feel that incorporeal touch.
Nate chuckled. 'Funnily enough, that's kinda what I said too.'
'Are you…? I mean… did you go to…? Shit. Why are you here? Are you here?'
'It seems I am.'
'Yeah. As I said…. And, please… clothes?'
Spike started again and nodded, turning toward the bed. 'Jesus, I hate my life sometimes.'
Spike stopped mid-step and turned incredulously. He nodded as if this only confirmed something then said pointedly, 'I'm a demon, but I've got a soul. I'm a sodding vampire, but I'm standing in bright sunlight talking to the ghost of a priest that I killed, and that's all you can focus on? That I soddin' swore? Bloody hell! Bloody, fucking hell.' He stomped to the bed and pulled on last night's cast off jeans.
When he turned, Nate was staring up at the glass. 'I didn't notice - it's kinda dull compared to where I've been. This is incredible!'
Spike brightened. 'Yeah. It's our new place. Want a tour?' Nate nodded, and Spike showed him around, still trying to decide whether to laugh or scream.
When they were done, Spike chose to sit in his room on the old couch, the gloom a very necessary reassurance when everything else was so strange. Nate sat down at the other end, and they looked at each other for a while. Biting his lip, Spike said hesitantly, 'So… bummer about the being dead then.'
'It's not what I expected; I'll give you that.'
'But not bad?' He sounded too concerned and tried a nonchalant crossing of his legs.
Nate smiled. 'No, Spike. It's anything but that.'
'And you're here because…?'
Nate frowned slightly. 'I'm not sure. I mean, I was sure… when I was there. Then it was all very clear. But now I'm here, it's all kinda blurry… glass darkly, and all that…. It's to do with you, I guess. I've been sent to help you do something.'
'I'm NOT going to bible class, praying, giving up fucking Angel, or any of the other things you've had me do since we met. Oh, and I'm not jogging anymore. It's uncool, and I'm not doing it.'
Nate chuckled. 'It's so good to see you again.'
Spike looked away. 'I think I'm going mad.'
The priest leant forward instinctively as if to touch him but then withdrew sadly. 'Damn. Spike… listen…. How can you of all people doubt this? Is this any more incredible than your own incredibility? I know it's hard. I was there, Spike. I felt your evil, and then I felt that powerful soul of yours returning. Spike… Spike! Listen to me! I saved a soul! Not with some mumbo jumbo I'd believed in all my adult life, kneeling to soft lights and praying. I - saved - a - soul! I actually held it in my hands, and I gave it back to you! I am totally, completely fulfilled because of what I was able to do for you. You gave me a great gift.'
Spike suddenly turned around and punched his hand through Nate's insubstantial form. 'This isn't a fucking gift! You were vital, alive; you breathed and laughed and ran like the fucking wind….'
'Spike, I can run so much faster where I am now. What you see here is just the part of me I can bring back to you. I actually saved a soul, and this is my reward.'
Nate laughed out loud. 'I'm not haunting you! Think of me as a house guest.'
'You're STAYING here?'
'I'm staying with you - you're here… ergo….'
'No ergos! Here is me… I mean… Angel… us… and…. We… a lot.'
Nate frowned. 'Yeah. I guess I'll be staying in here most of the time.'
Spike gritted his teeth. 'Look. Let's just work out why you're here, and you can sod off back to heaven. Why can't you remember?'
'I don't know. Maybe it's part of the test.'
'Oh shit, tests in heaven. Listen. You just stay here. I'm going to shower and go downstairs to work. When I get back, you'll be gone, and I'll go back to dreaming of you every night and going slowly insane that way… yeah?'
Nate pouted. 'Maybe that's why I'm here: to stop you feeling so bad.'
Spike blinked. 'Oh.'
'I don't know; but it could be.'
'No more dreams?'
Nate shrugged. 'Worth a try.'
'And if it's not that?'
'Maybe that'll just happen anyway as we try to figure out what I am here for.'
Spike rose. 'I'm still hoping you'll be gone when I get back, but okay, I'll go along with this for now, but when me and Angel are here together, you make yourself scarce. I don't care where - hell, there's a huge fucking place downstairs - anywhere but in here with us. I'm not fucking and sucking with you looking on.'
'Angel seemed to enjoy it last time.' Nate studied his nails with a nonchalant quirk of his eyebrow.
Spike gave him an incredulous look. 'Don't get snarky with me, Priest. I'm dead too, remember? You ain't impressing me. At least I'm fucking substantial.'
Nate smiled and stretched out his long legs. 'Can you turn that on for me?' He nodded at the huge screen. Spike looked surprised for a moment then flicked the remote for him. Nate watched the daytime chat show offering with the avid fascination of someone who never watched television when alive. With a last, incredulous look, Spike went rather shakily to the bathroom.
He came back in as soon as he was dressed and sat hesitantly on the couch. Nate turned from the screen and watched his expression for a while. 'I'm okay, Spike.'
There was a heavy sigh and a quiet ''S not easy saying sorry to someone you murdered.'
'Freed. You freed me, Spike.'
'Are they all…. SHIT!' Spike tipped his head back, blinked his eyes and tried again. 'Are they all there? All the people I… I mean… have you just gone there because you were so good, like Buffy, but all the others I killed…. Bloody hell!' He got up and stalked over to the bar and poured a drink, keeping his back to Nate. He felt the presence behind him and turned, startled how substantial this phantom appeared.
'Spike, I didn't realise just how small a cog I was in God's machine until I died. I don't have all the answers for you. I know you have more culpability than I initially thought - you had some free will, some residual memory of goodness and repressed it to take blood. But I know that you are here, and that you were allowed to have your soul back for a reason. You weren't the first demon to ask for it- did you think you were? You were just the first to be allowed to have it. I told you that Angel was precious. I thought you got that you were, too- that I didn't need to tell you. I gave my life for you, Spike, because I saw that, even when I was alive. So, no answers for you. I can't tell you what God looks like, whether there are songs and harps - actually, I have been singing quite a bit; my voice, like my running, has improved somewhat - but I must be here to help you do something that is very important. We'll figure it out together. You'll have to learn to live with what you've done and rise above the grief to make something good out of it. So, stop singing these sad songs. Get your butt downstairs, and do something useful and good for the day. And have something very substantial and greasy to eat for me, okay!'
Spike's pout made Nate chuckle, and he returned to his almost voyeuristic delight in the outpourings of America's underbelly.
Spike went thoughtfully into the elevator, feeling abashed, feeling that he'd been wasting time - that there was something important he needed to be doing. The feeling lasted all the way over to the couch. It lingered while he lit a cigarette. It faded somewhat when he spied the latest NME, but he kept it tucked into a corner of his mind as he read. He'd been allowed to have his soul back - twice - and now there was something important he had to do. He resolutely refused to think about any form of forgiveness for anyone, and reasoned that this could not possibly be why the priest had been sent back.
When he'd finished the magazine, he sighed and glanced at his office wearily. He dragged himself in and sat behind the desk, moving things around for a while. He looked out at the busy agency. Everyone else seemed engrossed in what they were doing. He peered through the adjoining door to Angel's office. Angel was watching him, feet propped up on the desk, deep in conversation with someone on the telephone. He smiled when he saw Spike's look. Spike swung his legs up on his desk too and hoped that would make him feel busier.
He sensed them come in and grinned at his friends as they strode nonchalantly past the humans. Jordan threw himself into a chair; Spike eased the door shut to Angel's office and watched Sam lower himself carefully into the other chair.
Sam laughed then winced and held his ribs. 'Got run over.'
'By a car?'
'No, Spike, by a stroller. Yes, by a fucking car.'
'Were you drunk? Okay, duh.'
'It's nothing. So, what's up? Besides us.'
Spike perched on the edge of the desk and looked at them both. 'We need some work.'
Jordan nodded as if this thought had not occurred to him then looked pointedly around the office and witheringly at Spike.
Spike huffed. 'Yeah. Well. So, any ideas?'
'You still thinking you'll stick to the bodyguard idea?'
Spike had a momentary flashback to telling another human his idea, refused to let any thoughts of that hated man stay in his mind, and said distinctly, 'No. I don't care what it is, as long as it pays well.'
'And helps the greater good?'
Spike clenched his jaw, glanced briefly up and nodded. 'Yeah.'
'Okay. I think we need a marketing strategy.'
'A what and wherefore?'
'We need to raise your profile.'
It took a while for Jordan and Spike to stop laughing and miming things being raised, but Sam let it all wash over him. When they'd had their fun, he continued. 'I've been thinking about the contrast between Angel's outfit and ours.'
'That he actually has employees who do some work?'
'Don't be facetious, Vampire; you're irritating enough without it. I was thinking more along the lines of his profile. Oh, shut up, you two.'
Sam got up then winced and sat back down. Spike repressed his laughter and said seriously, 'Sorry. Go on. You were talking about Angel's profile….'
Ignoring a last, soft snort from Jordan, Sam leaned forward and said, 'His main asset is…. Okay, that's it. I'm not continuing this.'
Spike laid a hand on his arm to stop him rising, mimed zipping his mouth, and perched back with a look of rapt attention.
'Angel's main asset is his name: Angel Investigations. He can market that. We need something too.'
'Okay. I told you. I'm not being called Big Bad Bump Offs.'
Sam leaned back, crossed his legs and smiled. 'I've got a better one.' He left a small anticipatory pause then said softly, 'Scary Monsters. That's what we're going to be called.'
Spike contorted his face a little. He cast a glance at Jordan who was giving Sam small, conspiratorial glances. Spike narrowed his eyes at them. 'Okay, monsters I get. Scary I get, but….'
Suddenly, Jordan changed, and Spike looked at the new persona with slowly dawning comprehension. Sam chuckled. 'Come on, Baby; you've got to admit you look just like him.'
'I don't in my bleedin' mirror.'
'Well, trust me, you do.'
Jordan was trying to repress a grin and added seriously, 'Course, it's got nothing to do with his lad insane phase- when I first met you, you were totally… rational.' With that, the blond rock-God turned back to his more usual look.
Sam looked smug. Spike gave him a wry look. 'Ignoring a very noticeable disrespect to your new boss, strangely, I like it.'
Sam grinned. 'Okay. Now we've got something to work on. I thought a small video….'
'A fucking what?'
'Imagine it… like a promo for a show. Dark streets of L.A.… someone in danger.…' He waved at Jordan. 'We don't need to hire a huge cast. We've got J. Big nasty demon - do you think the big nasty one next door would…? Okay, probably not. So, we hire in big nasty… J gets battered for a while - all in the best possible taste - and then… dah dah… Scary Monsters to the rescue.'
'Okay. Quit while you're ahead, Pet. Liking the name; the rest sucks more than you do on Saturday night at Babel.'
Sam waved his hand dismissively. 'You've got no vision, Vampire. It's why I'm a multimillionaire, retired at twenty-six, and adored by most of the male citizens of L.A.'
'You got rich cus you happened to be the only live person Angel knew who could add. You retired cus you're a drug-ridden layabout, and you think you fuck hundreds of L.A. citizens cus you can't remember anyone after you've pulled out.'
'Mere semantics. So, I'll start by buying a digital camcorder - tax deductible, of course.'
Spike began to laugh. 'Ah. Now we begin to see the true motive. You wanna make some home porno movies!'
Sam flicked up an eyebrow. 'Any volunteers to star in them?'
Spike folded his arms and frowned. 'Okay, we are SO distracted now. I want to do something good today. Stop pissing around.' He nodded at Jordan. 'You, start putting the word around that we're back in business. Demon hangouts; you know the kind of places. You….' He looked thoughtfully at the human then suddenly rose and came over to him, keeling and pulling free his shirt.
He hissed at the dark bruising and ignored Sam's cry of protest. 'You go back to bed. Official from your boss. And alone, Sam. You can't heal, sucking and fucking all your energy away. Ingest something other than liquid protein, for Christ's sake. Drink plenty of water, and go to bed.'
'Yes, Mommy. Will you spank me if I don't?'
Spike glanced up through lowered lids, and Sam groaned at the effect. 'I'll tell you what: I'll promise I will if you DO.'
Sam's eyes dilated, and he rose stiffly, tucking his shirt back in. Spike kissed them both lightly, and dug his fingers into Jordan's arm as he did.
They left; Jordan suddenly seemed to remember something he needed and waved Sam to continue on alone. 'What?'
Spike shut the door and closed the blinds. 'That wasn't a car. Follow him. If he stays in like I said, sit outside and let me know when he leaves.'
'Not a car?'
Spike pouted. 'Most things in this world I know shit about, Pet. Torture isn't one of them. Now, do as I say. Don't let him out of your sight.'
Jordan frowned and nodded then went swiftly out after the human.
Spike sat back down, thinking about his friend. After a while, he switched on his computer and leaned over to reopen the adjoining door. 'How do you get one of those things?'
Angel looked up from some paperwork. 'That's clear.'
'You know…. Those words on the screen, like yours.'
'My screensaver? Angel Investigations?'
'Yeah. I want one.'
Angel got up and came into his office. 'Ask Wes….' He swallowed and ran a hand through his hair, turned on his heel, and went back to his own office. 'I don't know. I didn't do it.'
Spike pouted and looked at his nails for a while then went back out to finish his magazine.
He'd done enough work for one day.
After a minute, he felt a hand on his neck, fingers running lightly through the short hair, and he heard a soft voice in his ear. 'Sorry.'
Spike was about to shrug off the apology, but Angel added, 'And you've tried so hard today, been such a good boy for me.'
He twisted around at Angel's playful tone and grinned back slightly ruefully. 'Yeah. I have.'
'So, I'm hungry now, and I think we should take bosses' privilege and go upstairs for a working lunch.'
'Uh huh. And what sort of lunch is that?'
'No actual food or work, I was thinking….'
'Oh yeah.' He rose, and they made their way swiftly to the elevator. Angel only just waited until the doors were closed before he pressed Spike back into the wall with a groan of need.
'I'm gonna fuck you 'til you can't even sit in that damn office this afternoon - tempting me and making me all….'
Spike chuckled and slid his hand provocatively down the front of Angel's pants. He hissed and left it there as they kissed.
The doors slid open; they both tried to repress habitual winces at the light then laughed and began to shed clothes with abandon. Spike decided to let Angel's hypocrisy go, resisted picking something up and folding it neatly, and threw his clothes with as much glee as his sire. Naked, they embraced again. Angel began to kiss into Spike's hair. 'You've left the TV on.'
Spike thought he covered well. 'Yeah. So I did. I'll go in there now and turn it off. Good idea.'
Angel watched, bemused, as Spike pulled back on his jeans and skittered into his own room. Scratching his belly, stroking his erection just to keep it interesting, he wandered in after him.
Spike skidded to a halt and turned with his mouth theatrically open. Nate turned and, just as theatrically, shaded his eyes.
'I know. Sorry.'
'You know what? Sorry what?'
'Oh, I'm not talking to… so, you can't see…? I mean, maybe dress, Pet?'
'Dress? Fuck, you mean….'
'Bed! Go to the bed, Angel!'
'Maybe I want you in here again….'
'I'll sit next door!'
'Yeah, good idea. Fingers in ears too.'
'Kinky, but if you want….'
'Oh, God, I'm trying to be tolerant here!'
'Don't blaspheme, Priest.'
'Spike? What the hell are you talking about?'
'Not you, Pet. I was teasing someone else for once.'
'Are you quite insane?'
'A lad insane, yeah. Shut the door, hey?'
'Cus I wanna be loud when you make me come.'
Angel shook his head and turned to shut the door. Spike watched Nate sit at one of the bar stools and sank, slightly off the thought of sex, onto the couch.
Angel came and stood behind him, rubbing his leaking tip into Spike's hairline, and Spike quickly got back into the mood. He turned and pulled Angel over the back of the couch, laughing as he fell in an ungainly heap. He slid up him until they could kiss.
Suddenly, he pulled away. 'Music. Loud.'
He went to the CD player and chose something very… drown-outing.
When he turned back, Angel wasn't there. He was heading lazily into the kitchen. 'I'm hungry. Let's fuck and feed.'
'Oh! Christ!' Angel didn't hear the way his audience echoed the same sentiments and glanced back over his shoulder at Spike.
'Don't be so impatient… you'll get this inside you soon enough.' He turned and stroked his erection.
Spike wanted to faint. Then he wanted to kill something for being made to feel that wussy. He skittered over and stood between Nate and Angel, his back to the one who was buried behind his hands. 'Sorry.'
Angel shook his head wearily as the apologies began again and bent to rummage in the fridge.
Spike heard a quiet, 'We need to find out what I'm here for, so I can go. Back to where I was. Quiet. Simple. No erect vampires.'
Spike murmured out of the corner of his mouth, 'I'm not going there then.'
Nate huffed. 'I'll try Angel's room. See if you can keep him out of there.'
'I didn't fucking invite you here!'
'Yes, Spike. You did. Somehow, you did. I'll read. I'll be okay.'
Spike nodded and sensed the priest drifting towards the other end of the apartment. Angel rose and handed him a blood bag. 'Who are you talking to?'
Spike cursed under his breath. 'No one. I'm pissing around.'
Angel tore into his bag and kept his face lowered. 'What did you and Jordan find so funny earlier?'
Spike frowned and brightened, glad for the distraction. 'We've named my agency.'
Angel looked up as if relieved - as if he'd been afraid the joke had been on him. 'Huh. What?'
Angel frowned. He pursed his lips.
'You don't like it?'
'I don't get it.'
'Oh, that part I get.'
'Yeah, got that part as well.'
'Well…. I guess it means I sorta look like… he had his insane phase like me…. Oh, and then the movie, of course. And it's cool. So, let's fuck, yeah?'
Still puzzling over the succinct explanation, Angel mutely followed Spike back to the couch.
Angel was late down after lunch, but no one had the courage to mention it. The one who might have done was no longer there. Angel felt his absence and went into his office, shutting the door. He picked up the telephone, and it was answered after a few rings.
'Oh. Hello. Have you ever telephoned me before?'
'Uh huh. That's relevant.'
'How are you?'
'I'm healing. Oh, God, I didn't mean that to suggest I was ready for….'
'It's okay, Wes. I know you didn't.'
'Oh. I could have done.'
'No. You're English.'
'And what? The English can't make provocative comments?'
Angel brushed over this, his mind still half-on the other Englishman he knew. 'I need to ask your advice on something.'
Wesley waited patiently and then murmured, 'And?'
'It's difficult. Prices had to be paid. Deals made.'
'Ah. Perhaps we should discuss this in person?'
Angel smiled and glanced down at the handset as if he could see the intense blue eyes staring at him with their enigmatic expression. 'You want me to come over…?'
There was a pause. 'That rather goes without saying.'
'Okay. I'll…. Oh. Fuck.'
'Nothing. A… client. I'll call you back.' He put the handset down and watched Lilah approach his office.
Spike stepped out of the elevator just in time to see Lilah enter Angel's office. He strode over to Cordelia. 'What the fuck is she doing here?'
Cordelia was watching the office too and frowned. 'Getting paid, I'm thinking.'
She saw Spike's expression. 'Oh. He didn't tell you.'
Before she could elaborate further, Angel came out of the office. He looked at Spike and pursed his lips for a moment. Lilah came out behind him, gave him a glance and a smile, and went toward the exit.
Angel nodded at Spike then at the elevator and went toward it.
Spike gave Cordelia a 'we'll-talk-about-this-later' look and followed Angel. He narrowed his eyes at him as they stood in the elevator.
'I'm thinking you're gonna tell me what the fuck is going on here.'
Angel leant back on the wall and only looked at him.
They stepped out into the light.
Spike glanced to Angel's room and saw the priest coming out. He was clearly surprised at their early reappearance. Suddenly, Nate's eyes opened wide, and with a slight stumble forward, he said raggedly, 'He's lost his soul!'
Go to Chapter 2
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