Angel woke at the first ring of the telephone, as he always did. His first thought was that it was Wesley - that something was wrong - but then he remembered that Wesley would telephone him no more. He ignored his confusion at the sadness of this thought and picked up the receiver.
'Buffy?' He sat up in bed and looked at the clock, rubbing his hand through his hair. 'What's wrong?'
'Does there have to be something wrong for me to call?'
'Oh. Well, it's… err… Spike….'
'I'm really not interested in what Spike is doing, unless you tell me it has something to do with rings and Bach.'
'He has his soul back. Angel? Angel? Are you still there?'
'It's a trick. It would be easy for him to fool you.'
'It's not just that. Can you come?'
'Angel? You have to!'
'I need you to.'
'We don't do this anymore, Buffy. I can't do this anymore; you know that.'
'It's not for me. It's for him.'
'Angel. He has a soul. It changes everything.'
'This can't be happening. How? How did it happen?'
'I don't know.'
'Didn't you ask him?'
'You need to come, Angel, and see him for yourself. I can't explain like this….'
'Ask him how he got it; then call me back.'
'Angel! Don't hang up on me! I can't talk to him. He's… he's all crazy…!'
They came again, one after the other with no respite. Buffy seemed slightly more real this time, but he could never be sure and did not risk trying to be sane with her. She went quickly enough, and he waited for the final one: the one who always came…. He arrived. He knelt down in front of him and took Spike's face in his hands. He was gentle. He turned the ravaged features to the low light and shook his head. 'Oh, Will, Childe, what has happened to you?'
Spike looked into the deep, brown eyes. 'I went to China, but you didn't come with me.'
'I couldn't. But I'm here now.'
'Yes, but you don't have a pass. You should go.'
'I don't need a pass, Will, to be with you.'
'I wanted my hair to grow back, but it won't. It's stopped. Like me.'
'Shhh. Don't worry about things like that now. I'm here to take you home.'
'That's a long time ago. Can we go back that far?'
'Not back, my little poet, never back.'
'Don't call me that. I can't find any rhymes down here, even for Buffy who is poetry in my heart.'
'Shall I help you out?'
'Yes, please, help me out. I'm lost, and I can't give myself a pass. Not allowed to, you see. I sold mine to the devil, and he won't give it back. So, please, can you help me? One little rhyme, and it will all make sense.'
'Just one? All right then… but it's a difficult word to rhyme with, isn't it: vampire….'
Spike covered his ears to the maniacal giggling and hunched low on his heels. That was the closest he'd ever been to believing that he was real. Brief respite, and they would begin again: a progression of evil from the beginning to the end, which might have been the beginning, he couldn't tell
The next time, Buffy stayed for some time, but she did not speak at first. He twisted his head and watched her watching him. 'I got all spilt on.'
'It was black, see, and wouldn't wash off.'
'Don't. Stop it. I can't stand it any more.'
'You can't stand it? You can't stand it?' He flung himself up, utterly heedless that he was naked. She turned her face. 'How do you think I stand it? It's so hot. I took off my coat; I thought I would be comfortable, but I'm not!'
'Shut up. Shut up, Spike. You are…. you need to calm down.'
'Yes, that's right. You are right. I'll be calm. How's this? Am I calm?'
'I have to go now. But I've sent…. I have to go.'
He followed her. 'How were you back there? I saw you in that place, which was so long ago.'
'Spike! Stop with the crazy, please.'
'It was why I wanted you, see, cus you'd been there when he was. But he never was there really. He didn't exist. In my heart he did. He was all real in there. But I gave it to the devil. Do you get it, Buffy…? Do you get it…? I wanted to give it to you, but I was all wrong. I'm all wrong….'
She fled on the sound of this insanity that she could not hit, break, or fight.
'Angel. Hang up on me, and I will personally come there and fetch you.'
'Buffy. Stop it. I've told you….'
'I'm going to stake him. Angel? Don't do silence on me! ANGEL!'
'What do you mean?'
'He is like a dog that needs a mercy killing, Angel. Everyone thinks it. No one else will do it.'
'That is not… acceptable….'
'What! What! Don't you do the crazy with me, too.'
Drusilla stayed with him most of the day, which was nice. It was like old times: one of them insane and the other one pretending not to notice. He allowed her to bring him off, his seed falling uselessly to the ground where it belonged. No one wanted it. No one wanted him.
Buffy came as usual. This time he cowered under his blanket so she would not see that he had spilt without her. He could smell his cum and feared she would, too; so he sat on it and spread the corners of his blanket neatly over the damp stain.
'Spike. Come out.'
'I'm not allowed to tonight. I have to attend Mother. She needs me.'
'No. I'm not doing with the crazy tonight. I need to…. I have to…. I've come to…. Damn, I can't do this.'
He listened to her leave with sadness. He'd hoped she would stay and play, too: one-handed Quadrille was so difficult. But he never had to wait long for him to arrive and, right on cue, he did.
This time, he circled him as he sat under his blanket. 'What are you doing?'
'Hiding from you.'
'You didn't like the music I chose for you, even though it used to be your favourite.'
'Are you enjoying eternity, Will?'
'No. I want to go home.'
'Well, that's a good start.' Spike tensed slightly under his blanket. Liam was clever. He'd just switched to a new voice: no longer lilting and smelling of peat.
'To that little, fussy room?' A switch back… that confused Spike slightly: the peat again.
He risked a reply. 'I didn't get lost there. It was just the right size for me.'
'I know what being lost is like, Spike.' / 'That's because you were always small, Will.'
Spike was beginning to enjoy his insanity. It exceeded even his own expectations. 'Can you see each other? That would be funny.'
'What do you mean, Spike? Come out from under there.' / 'Don't try to play your insanity with me, Will; I made you like this, you are my creation.'
'I'm not much to be proud of Liam, for all your efforts.'
'Spike, please, I've come to get you out of here, but you have to take the first step. Come out from under there.'
Spike waited for the other voice, but it did not come. He risked peeping out and studied his visitor carefully. 'You should bathe.'
'What? Why? Spike, shut up, and get up.'
'All dirty, see? It gives you away. You think you aren't him, but you are.'
'Okay…. Spike. Turn around.'
'Why? Are you going to lick me again? Because I said no then, I think. Wish I'd said no to it all really, but I wanted not to be lonely. Waste of bloody time, wasn't it? All of it. All such a waste and her, most of all. All wasted…. You can't see me now under here. I came to find you, rushing so fast, wanting you so much, but you weren't there. Had no spark, see? No bang in the sky, and I wanted that, cus it was so pretty on the heath that night. But they did bad things to him afterwards. I always felt so sorry for 'im, and us stuffing trousers and burning them when they did such bad things to him. Pokers. Hot. What I wanted from you, I think. In my dreams that's what you gave me. No spark now.'
'Spike, I'm going to take you out of this place now. You have to come with me.'
'Oh, yes, you said come with me, and I did. Right into the cave where that bloody spider went up and down, and what did he get? Nothing. I've got a cold, Liam. Yours. I think I caught your cold. Mother said I should be careful. Said I shouldn't go out at night. But I did. For you. To have you, but all I got was THIS BLOODY COLD and look at you! I can see it in your eyes. He's there in you, too.'
'Spike. Listen carefully to me. You have to try and listen to my voice. You remember my voice, don't you?'
'Say something in your real voice, and I'll try to remember.'
'Jeez. Now. You have to come with me now. Whatever you are going through is being made worse here. I can feel it, too. Trust me, and come with me. What are you doing?'
Spike rose from his blanket, holding his flaccid penis. 'He wants me to come with him. For the first time, and now I can. I got it hard for him, but I think it was too hot. He was so cold.'
A hand was laid gently on Spike's arm, but Spike snatched it away.
'No! You can't have the boy now. He's all ruined. The boy was nice, and then he wasn't, and you didn't want either. So not now. I'll burn you. Too hot still. All burning.'
'SHUT UP! Fuck, I wish I'd let her stake you now. Turn around. Yes! I'm going to lick you. Turn AROUND!'
Angel hit him over the back of the head and caught the unconscious form before his head could touch the floor.
Spike woke in the dark. He sensed he was underground. Nothing appeared to be different but everything was. He stood up. He was dressed in clothes that did not fit him. A blanket, a mattress, some blood bags and a few books were scattered around on the floor. It seemed very peaceful, very safe. He vomited over the books, stripped and went to huddle in the corner. He desperately wanted to cross the space to fetch the blanket, but feared the gaping maw that was between him and that small shred of sanity.
He heard the door opening and turned his face to the wall. 'I'm not here.'
'Yes, you are.'
'Then you're not here, and that's even better.'
'Who do you think I am?'
'Should I have to think? Have you been many people?'
'You know that I have, and you've known every one.'
'But I haven't, have I?'
'Uh huh. Not so mad then, Spike. No, you never knew Liam, although I did a good impression of him for you.'
'No idea who you are now. Thought you were Buffy.'
'No one is laughing.'
'I don't laugh much. Now get out of that corner and help clear up this mess.'
'Uh huh, again. And what?'
'You eat your messes, Liam.'
'Try calling me Angel, Spike, it might help restore your dubious sanity.'
'Giving it back to me might help more.'
'You think I took it from you?'
'End and beginning.'
'Hmm. You vomited on my only copy of Catch 22.'
'Madness for the mad? I always enjoyed your sense of humour, Angel.'
'Liking the Angel. Okay. Let's get you out of here.'
'Does your head still hurt?'
'So, I repeat. Let's get you out of here… without resorting to violence.'
'You taught me about violence.'
'You were a quick study.'
'Get dressed, Spike. Other people live here with me now, and I wouldn't inflict your naked body on any of them.'
'Is this London?'
'Is that likely?'
'Is it likely that I am a demon with a soul, talking to another demon with a soul?'
'Good point. All right then, yes, it's London. Does that help? Now, get up, get dressed and come up to the bathroom with me. We wash in London these days.'
'You can never get clean, Angel. You pollute what you touch.'
'Just dress, Spike.'
Angel led him through the Hyperion's kitchens and up the back stairs to the lobby. Spike cowered at the brightness and size of the place. Angel sucked his breath in at the changes he could see now Spike was up and walking around. 'You look like shit.'
'Are you going to fuck me then? You wouldn't have to choose. Have it all: shit and me.'
Angel narrowed his eyes at Spike's disingenuous expression. 'You remember that?'
'I don't know who I am, so I can't remember anything.'
'Sure. Believing this, Spike. Come into the kitchen and feed. It's the first stage of recovery.'
Spike's face suddenly brightened. 'This is AA, ain't it? I knew! I knew! Can I confess?'
Grabbing his arm, Angel let him down the stairs and into the small kitchen. He blessed the others' absence as he sat Spike down in a chair. He warmed two mugs of blood, eyeing the blond vampire warily. 'Can you tell me what it feels like, Spike?'
'Hard mostly, but I don't spill.'
'Hmm. I'm debating continuing this…. But I'm a masochist… course I will. Your soul, Spike. What does your soul feel like?'
'Silk is good.'
'Not around your throat it ain't.'
'Not stuffed in your mouth it ain't.'
'Again, no. Feels good on your nuts though.'
'Is that where your soul is, Angel?'
'Is yours in your mouth or your throat?'
'I'm insane, Angel; it can be where I like.'
'Sure. I've been insane for eighty years. Mine's in my nuts if I want it to be.'
'Huh.' Spike tipped his head on one side and watched Angel heat the blood. 'I won't take that.'
'I'm not giving it to you. I'm going to tip your head back and pour it down your throat.'
'Because you can't recover unless you feed well.'
'That wasn't what I meant.'
'I know, Spike, but fortunately, you are insane, so I don't have to answer all your questions.'
Spike shut up at that, Angel's madness confusing him too much to keep his straight in his head. He took the blood and drank it, despite his earlier refusal. Angel gave him another and watched that go down, too.
''S good then. Topping up the soul with others' life blood.'
'It was just blood, Spike; don't try to see too much in it.'
'Too much? In blood? Angel, it is all blood. It's what we are!'
'Blood and soul now.'
'I-I don't know. Is it like a spark?'
'Yours might be. Mine's just a bitch most of the time.'
'Come on; let's get you clean. You aren't much fun to play with at the moment.' He froze, his ironic, detached manner slipping slightly at the unfortunate associations that rose at this. He looked sideward at Spike but didn't see much change in the confused expression. He gave a small blink of relief and took Spike's arm. 'I'm thinking of leaving the hair - washing it, but leaving it - I kind of like it. What do you think, Spike?'
Spike turned to him as they slowly mounted the stairs. 'I think I would have been fun to play with, but you tidied me away before you'd even unwrapped me.'
Angel gritted his teeth and took a firmer hold on the arm of this troubling childe.
Washing Spike proved more difficult than Angel had anticipated. Spike refused to do anything for himself, and Angel was in no mood to pander to his theatrical madness. He really didn't want to have to strip him. He really didn't want to hold him, struggling under the water. He definitely didn't want to ruin his own hair, trying to wash Spike's, but he did all this. Finally, he got Spike relatively clean, wrapped in a towel and tucked in his bed.
'I'm going home soon.'
'Good. Do you have the bus fare?'
'The number nine used to stop outside our place and take me to Camden market.'
'Uh huh. Fascinating, Spike.'
'I like that show.'
'Totally not wanting to go here, Spike, but it kind of begs to be done: what the fuck are you talking about?' Spike was saved a thoughtful reply for the telephone rang. Angel sat on the edge of the bed and leant warily over Spike to reach it.
There was such a long pause that even Spike looked up with an almost sane curiosity. 'Wesley.'
'I heard what's happened.'
'Your associates keep their ears to the ground.'
'Willow telephoned me, actually, but I expect Wolfram and Hart know too. Shall I ask, next time I see an ear?'
'Don't do this, Wesley. You haven't earned the right to piss me off.'
'Shut up. No, not you, Wesley. Well, yes, why not? You shut up, too.'
'He's there with you?'
'Yes, he is. Why are you calling?'
'Because I want to find you.'
'Shut up, Spike! You're bad enough when you hear a whole conversation.'
'I need to see you, about Spike.'
'You said that before. But not so nicely.'
'Shu…. No, not you, Wesley. And no, again!'
'Hang on.' Angel clamped his hand over Spike's mouth, ignoring the furious look. 'What do you want? And make it quick. He'll start biting in a minute.'
'I think Spike regaining his soul is somehow connected to you, Angel. I need to see you to show you some of the research I've found.'
'I don't like the places you've been looking in recently, Wesley.'
'Don't be a prude as well as a hypocrite, Angel; it doesn't suit you.'
Angel hesitated. 'I can't leave Spike.' He looked at the blond vampire with a furrowed brow for a moment. 'Stop that.'
'I'm not doing anything, Angel.'
'Not you. Look, come here, or I'll be fucking insane soon.'
'Me coming there relieves your imminent insanity? Interesting theory, Angel.'
'Fuck off and come here tomorrow. And Gunn and Fred will both be here, by the way.'
'Shall I bring some of my friends, too?'
'You don't have any.' He put the phone down and peeled what remained of his hand from Spike's teeth. 'That will be the last time you hurt me, Spike.'
'Is it only you who is allowed to go on hurting people?'
'I don't. I help people.'
'Don't get into this, Spike. Remember you are insane and stick to that.'
Spike pursed his lips and began to get out of bed. 'Time to go home. Andy and Teddy are going to bed.'
'Andy and fucking Teddy, whoever they are, are staying here with you. You can snuggle up together.' He picked up a glass of liquid that had stood unnoticed by Spike on the bedside table, took hold of the smaller man, stretched his neck back and effectively poured the contents down his throat without the smallest spill.
Spike opened his eyes wide at the treatment, put one finger to his mouth, as if going to force himself to vomit the drug, but Angel just lay on him. It didn't take long. Strong horse tranquillizer. Spike stopped writhing and crying to be free after a few minutes. Finally, Angel sat up and ran his hand through still wet hair. When he took it away, it was shaking. He clenched his fist on this single indication of his pain and confusion and got up to think about the coming confrontation with his beloved enemy.