Angel swallowed hard and wanted to kill something. He wanted to drag Spike into a dark place and kill him. He could not believe that he had had the audacity to return. All of Angel's conflicting emotions rushed into his head. The struggle he faced every hour of every day to stay on his path tore at him. He hovered dangerously close to the edge of a great darkness where, if he allowed it, he might abandon his redemption and rest at last in oblivion of blood and pain.
Instead, he nodded at the humans and went back into his office, shutting the door.
After a few moments, there was a soft knock. He ignored it, but the door opened anyway, and Spike stood quietly in the gap. Angel had taken the few minutes he needed to refasten his masks and arm his defences, so he was able now to just nod to the empty chair.
'What do you want?'
He tented his hands under his chin and watched Spike sit down. Suddenly, he frowned deeply, noticing for the first time Spike's appearance. Gone were the habitual black clothes. Gone was the leather duster. Gone were the boots. Spike was wearing a pale shirt and a pair of old faded jeans that hung off his thin body, and he appeared to be wearing new trainers. Gone was the hard, slicked, white-blond hair; he had a softer, more natural, tussled look. There was no black polish either; the nails were clean and short. There was something else that seemed very different about him, but Angel could not immediately place this, so filed the thought away to pick at later when he was alone.
He shifted slightly in his chair and repeated his question. 'What do you want?'
Spike appeared quite calm and replied evenly, 'I know you don't want me here, but the watcher - Giles - needed to get some books to Wesley. He asked me to bring them.'
'So, you've brought them. Now you can go.'
'Can I get some of the clothes you... we... I bought when I was here?'
'The clothes, Angel. Can I collect them? I didn't want them. Now I do.'
Spike gave him a pained look and did not bother to reply. He got up and began to move toward the outer office.
'No.' Angel cursed inwardly. He had no excuse not to let Spike take them, but he did not want him to see the damage to his room. 'I'll get them. Stay here.'
Spike raised an eyebrow but perched on the edge of one of the desks and occupied himself by chatting to the humans.
Angel went up the stairs and opened the door for the first time in twelve weeks. He cursed again, not wanting to pick everything up and fold it. In the end he fetched a bag of his own and stuffed all the things in as badly as he could.
He returned to the lobby to find everyone arming up. He looked at Wesley and Gunn, and they nodded grimly at him. 'Fight's back on, Angel. Suit up.'
Before Angel could reach for his favourite sword, he saw Gunn pass Spike an axe. ' NO!'
All eyes turned to him then everyone ignored him and began to leave. Spike stayed by the weapons' cabinet and offered him back the axe. 'I'll go then. Just thought I could be some use, ya know?'
Angel bit his lip. He knew Spike was right, but this was not how it had to be. He could not do this… but this was not the time to debate the issue. He ignored the offered axe, snatched up his sword and followed the humans out. 'You leave when this is over. And don't get in my way.'
Spike didn't get in Angel's way. He fought with a strength and tenacity that astounded the humans. Although he'd said to Gunn that he was a fighter, although they knew he was William the Bloody, although they knew he was Angel's childe, they mostly saw him as a bit of a fuck-up.
Suddenly, however, there were two equally powerful vampires, fighting on their side. Spike killed the demons with a zest and flair for killing that they never saw in Angel. He revelled in his power. Incredibly, he protected the four of them without thought for his own safety. No one got injured, and the buzz of such an easy victory buoyed the flagging human spirits.
When they got back to the hotel, someone suggested a victory drink together. It was such an unusual suggestion that they all leapt on it eagerly. Spike got included in the invitation, and then they all looked at Angel. Angel was cleaning his sword, very carefully and very methodically.
'Angel?' Fred hung on Gunn's arm and indicated the door with her head.
'Angel! You have to come.'
Angel looked up at the four human faces, ignoring the other one. 'No. I don't.' He put his sword back and went up the stairs by himself.
Angel came back down as soon as he heard the door close. He'd expected them not to go without him, and now he was slightly at a loss what to do.
How much self-control was he supposed to have? It had taken him twelve weeks of constant work and effort to regain his balance, and now Spike was back: different, subdued, but still back… fighting alongside him, his body taut and hard as he punched and rolled and swung and.… Fighting alongside him... being there... sharing his life…. The vision was so seductive that Angel went back to his weapons, selected something very long and hard, and went back out into the night to find demons to kill whose deaths would temporarily satisfy the place inside him that seemed so empty.
He got back in the early hours of the morning and decided to wait up for the humans to come to work. He made to clean the weapons while he waited, but had not even begun before the unfortunate associations of this simple act distracted him. Instead he got a book and sat in his office, ostensibly reading while he waited for his employees.
Fred and Gunn came in first as usual. Angel went out to greet them, but as he could not ask directly how the evening had gone, was at a loss when they appeared to be discussing redecorating a bathroom. He gritted his teeth and waited for Cordelia; she was a far better source of necessary gossip. When she arrived, however, she went to her desk, complaining about sore feet and began to surf for shoe sales without even bothering to speak to the others. Angel clenched his jaw to the questions he longed to ask and waited patiently for Wesley. Wesley was the easiest to draw out, and he knew he'd have answers there.
He had more than he expected. Wesley and Spike came in together. Wesley even held the door so Spike could make the dash safely under a blanket.
Angel wondered if it was one of Wesley's blankets.
Spike saw Angel and hesitated on the threshold, folding the blanket and handing it to the human. Wesley looked at him, said something that Angel could not catch and then came forward.
Angel ignored the human and continued to stare at Spike, but when Wesley spoke, he tore his eyes away from the blond figure and looked stonily at his colleague. '.... so, I think it's the best idea.'
'What?' Angel tried to look contrite and added, 'What did you say?'
Wesley sighed, and going toward the kitchen to make some tea, said conversationally, 'Spike was such a help last night that I asked him to stay for a few days until this unfortunate thing....'
'He won't be under your....'
'No.' Angel shook himself and wondered why he was bothering to argue. He looked over to Spike. 'My office. Now.'
Once more, Spike crossed the lobby with four sets of sympathetic eyes on him. He followed Angel into the office and shut the door considerately behind him. He grunted slightly as Angel slammed into him then grunted loudly when Angel's knee thudded into his balls. He dropped to one knee, gritting his teeth.
'What the fuck are you playing at, Spike? This is not a fucking game. You leave. Now.'
When Spike could stand, he made his way painfully over to the chair and sat for a moment, recovering. 'It wasn't my idea. They asked, and it just seemed....'
'I don't want you here.'
'I won't be here.'
'I'm not staying here. I'm staying at Wesley's.'
Angel heaved Spike up by his shirtfront and pushed him back against the wall once more. Inches from Spike's face, Angel's resistance was at an all time low. He could smell his childe's freshly washed hair and wanted to press his face into the long, dark blond strands to see if they were still damp. Spike blinked and long eyelashes fanned across his cheeks only to rise and reveal seductively large blue eyes. 'I'll do some fighting for them, try to make up for what I did - caused - and when they're bored of the novelty, I'll go.'
'You are not staying with Wesley.'
'I don't have much choice. I'm not staying here.'
Angel didn't want to ask, but pressed to Spike, feeling his body once more, he felt a tiny crack in his armour begin to form. 'Why not?'
Spike slid to one side and disengaged himself from Angel's hold. 'Because I don't want to, Angel. I don't want.... This is not about you or me. Us even. That is not going to happen again. I need to get out of Sunnydale for a few days. Wesley offered, and I accepted. But, Angel....' Spike looked over at Angel's outrage. 'You nearly destroyed me last time, and I can't go through that again. I'm not here for that. That's why I'm staying with Wesley.'
'So you can have it with him?' As he said the stupid words, Angel tried to bite them back, but it was too late. Spike gave him a withering look and straightened his shirt.
'I'll stay out of your way. When I've had enough, I'll go. No need for us to meet, I guess, except for the fighting.'
Without waiting for an answer, Spike went out of the door and rejoined the humans waiting anxiously in the lobby.
They all smiled nervously when he came out, but the smiles faded when Angel walked stonily passed them and went upstairs. Spike watched his back until it rounded the corner. 'He been like this since the robot?'
Wesley came and stood alongside him. 'This is good, Spike. For the first two weeks after you left, he was... impossible. Fortunately, he wasn't here all that much, but when he was, we all learnt to avoid him.'
Spike kept his face neutral at this and appeared to lose interest in Angel pretty quickly. He asked instead to be shown how everything worked. Surprised but pleased, they let him answer the telephone for the rest of the morning - a novelty that appeared to amuse him. He dutifully took messages and passed them on. He even made coffee when asked and generally made himself useful around the office. Unexpectedly, Angel came back down at lunchtime: something he almost never did. The atmosphere sank again for a while, and the humans busied themselves at their desks, trying not to be noticed. Spike was in the kitchen, so they watched anxiously as Angel went in that direction.
Angel did not see why he should not go anywhere he wanted in his own home so, ignoring Spike's presence at the table, made his way to the fridge. He took out a blood bag and sat down with a newspaper, studying the headlines with great intensity.
Spike turned the pages of his book and ignored Angel too.
After some minutes of mutual ignoring, Angel said conversationally, 'That's still the same book.'
Spike didn't look up. 'I keep getting interrupted, so I have to start again.'
'Maybe you should go somewhere on your own then.'
'I've been on my own since I was turned; I wasn't talking about physical space.'
Angel ignored this as he was reading a fascinating account of a war in a country he'd never heard of. Spike got up, took his tea and went out to sit with the others. Angel listened to the quiet talk for a while, then got up and joined them, sitting quietly in a spare chair, still reading his paper.
'These doofusoids didn't tell me it wasn't Angel.' Angel buried his head deeper into the intricacies of the Dow Jones knowing, but not wanting to know, what Cordelia was talking about.
'It was all part of the plan to make it seem more real, Cordelia. Your reactions were vital. If you thought it was Angel, and reacted accordingly - and can I just say excellent hysterical screaming - then so would Wolfram and Hart.' Angel turned a page but, frustratingly, couldn't get the broadsheet to fold again properly and made a very unwelcome rustling just as Spike murmured a quiet reply.
'So they never suspected?'
Angel wanted to shout out that the robot had been so fucking perfect he'd have fucked it himself, but so utterly confused himself by this that he missed his chance to contribute to the conversation.
'Not for a minute.'
'Until they staked it out for the sunrise, that is.' Angel wanted to watch Spike's reaction to this, but engrossed in a review of a play, he missed the expression in his eyes.
'Staked out? Bloody bastards.' Angel gritted his teeth at the wistful comment and congratulated himself that he'd been right all along about Spike preferring the robot to him.
'It was just a robot, man. Bundle of plastic and wires.' Angel nodded at Gunn's comment, but covered this evidence he was listening by running one hand through his hair as he thoughtfully turned another page.
'Yeah, I know. Still, it didn't know that. It thought it was real. Like we all do, I guess.'
Spike's comment rather floored his audience, and Angel felt a small smile trying to appear before he ruthlessly clamped down on it.
'So, you sure it's gone? Don't think sunlight would affect it much.'
There was a slight pause, and Angel waited gleefully for Spike to be told his beloved's fate. 'We made sure it was, Spike; we feared something like that might happen. We destroyed it remotely.'
There was a lull as the telephone rang, and Fred answered it. As she spoke, Angel lifted his face covertly to watch Spike, and was more than a little annoyed to see him looking thoughtfully at Wesley. He turned to the sports section and leant forward on his knees, just to show that he wasn't listening.
'If it's not busy tonight, do you wanna do something, Watcher?'
Angel's head jerked up; he couldn't help it. He flashed a look at Wesley, but the human had been listening to Fred and didn't see the look. Consequently, innocently, Wesley smiled and replied, 'All right. If there's no emergency end-of-the-world-apocalypse type of thing later on. Good idea. Anyone else want to join us?'
Before he could stop himself, Angel shook his paper out, rose and said neutrally. 'I will.'
If he expected gasps of shock and amazement, fear or delight, at this startling announcement that he suspected Wesley and Spike of something, and that he was acutely jealous of them spending any time together, he was disappointed. Wesley only nodded, pleased and said, 'Pass me the paper then. I'll see what's on.'
Angel looked at him. 'Come into my office, Wesley.' He looked again and added, 'Please.'
When they were inside and the door closed, Angel perched casually on the desk and, with what he hoped was a disarming smile, said, 'What are you doing?' Are you doing Spike? He listened for a moment, just to check that this last had not actually come out and added, 'I got the distinct impression you didn't like my family or want them here.'
Wesley frowned and nodded. 'I know. I didn't. But Angel, that's when I thought they were all psychotic killers trying to draw you back to the dark side.'
'And now you don't?'
'Spike? Oh, come on, Angel! Even you have to admit he's not exactly what the accounts of William the Bloody's exploits would lead one to expect, is he? I mean, look at him! I think he is genuinely trying to make up for some of the damage - the pain - he inadvertently caused the last time he was here.'
Yeah, he's trying to seduce Pat Robertson, too. 'Maybe.'
'I would have thought you'd enjoy having him here.'
I'm not having him. That's the problem. 'Possibly.'
'Well, where's the paper then? Let's see what's on.'
Yes. Let's. Why not? Angel handed it over wordlessly, and they went back into the outer office.
Wesley sat down next to Spike and showed him the relevant page. Spike looked at him, amused. 'Not the ballet or anything too poofy, 'k? Break me in gently.'
Angel wanted to kill him again.
Suddenly, it struck him what the other difference was. Ignoring his precept that he was ignoring Spike, he turned to him, astonished. 'You're not smoking.'
Spike pouted. 'I've given up.'
Angel's jaw dropped for a moment, until he clamped it firmly shut. The others were congratulating Spike as if this abstinence would improve his health. He tried to shrug off the attention, and when he couldn't, turned to Gunn. 'Do you fancy some training, Mate?'
Gunn looked surprised but pleased, and they rose together and made their way to the weapons. Angel looked around, frantically waiting for someone else to point out the obvious so he didn't have to, and thus admit he was bothered about Gunn going into the basement out of sight with Spike.
No one spoke, so he was forced to say 'Chip?' and cursed inwardly when his voice was just slightly too high.
Spike hesitated and looked at Gunn. 'Oh, yeah. Guess we can't. Ya know... zap if I hurt you.'
Gunn shrugged and turned to Angel. 'Guess you're volunteered then, Boss.'
How Gunn could walk so nonchalantly away from the cluster bomb he'd just unleashed, astounded Angel. Caught in the imaginary explosion, he entirely missed his opportunity to refuse the suggestion, for Spike turned casually and, with a shrug at the exchange, went down into the training room.
Angel trailed after him, ignoring the slight smirk from Wesley that made him feel like a five-year-old getting on nicely now with his little friend. He was about to refuse to train, when Spike turned and said flatly, 'I'm not doing this with you.'
Angel raised his eyebrow. 'If anyone's not doing it, it's me, and why aren't you doing it?'
Spike sat on the edge of the stack of mats and folded his hands together. With a stab of surprise, Angel noticed for the first time that all the rings were gone as well. '… don't want that.'
Angel jerked his head back and swore inwardly - now he had to ask for Spike's reply to be repeated, and he really didn't want to have to do that. He walked over to the punch bag and made a pretence of straightening it slightly. 'What?'
Spike sighed, and Angel had a flash of him bleeding very satisfactorily on something sharp.
'I said, I don't want to train with you, cus I know where that'll end up, and I don't want that.'
Without turning around, Angel said in a tone he hoped was menacing with a hint of something more, 'And where would that be?'
Spike stood up. 'That would be you, probably flattening me on the floor or 'gainst the wall and sticking yer penis up me arse, and me letting ya. So, like I said, no training. I'm not here for that. I don't want that.'
Angel whirled around. 'You have an incredibly high opinion of yourself these days, Spike.'
He let the devastating reply hang in the air, pleased with the effect, until Spike began to laugh. Angel frowned and was about to try for something more telling, when Spike began to climb the steps. 'Yeah, Angel, I think I'm God's gift.'
Angel clenched his jaw at the self-hatred he heard beneath the words and watched Spike climb slowly back into the light of the lobby.