Perhaps wisely, Wesley abandoned the idea of finding something that they would all enjoy equally and settled for suggesting they just go for a drink. Angel didn't seem bothered what they did, and Spike appeared happy to acquiesce to anything. When he saw Wesley getting ready to leave, Spike picked up the bag of badly scrunched clothes and made to join him. Angel's brow lowered and images of shared showers flashed across his mind. He coughed unnecessarily and said, 'Why not change here?'
Spike gave him a long, thoughtful look and said, 'You know why.' Wesley nodded his agreement at something he had entirely misunderstood and began chatting about inconsequential things. He told Angel where to meet them, and then somehow Angel was left alone in the lobby before he had had time to assert his authority over a situation that seemed to be slipping inexorably away from him.
Angel arrived too early at the bar, something he hated doing, for it meant he had to stand alone drinking, trying to look as if he hadn't been stood up and trying not to attract so much attention that he got hit on. As he'd dressed to kill, he suspected that the second would happen fairly quickly. Fortunately, he'd only had time to order one drink when Wesley and Spike came in, laughing together at something. They, Angel noticed with fury, had not dressed up, and he immediately regretted his leather pants and coat. Spike was wearing a very ordinary pair of stone coloured chinos with a brown shirt. Wesley was wearing jeans and a sweater. They came over, both seemingly pleased to see him. Angel wasn't fooled for a minute, and knew they'd rather he wasn't there.
He bought them both drinks, however - a subtle reminder to one that he worked for him and to the other that he was penniless - and nodded at an empty booth toward the back. Without waiting for them, he sauntered over, well aware that almost every eye in the place, male and female, was on him. Spike sat down opposite him, and Wesley slid in next to Spike. They appeared deep in a conversation about England, and Angel was able to combine his intense hatred of the both of them with his even more intense hatred of the English in a very agreeable fantasy that involved, as usual, copious amounts of pain and blood.
Once more, Angel cursed inwardly and had to ask Spike somewhat sheepishly, 'What?'
Spike gave him a look but repeated, 'What was that place we went to in Germany called?'
Angel frowned, trying to see the trick in the question, but finding none. 'What place? We went lots of places.' He could see that it was on the tip of Spike's tongue to say, "The one we've just been talking about," so added rather bitterly, 'I wasn't listening. A lot on my mind, you know?'
Spike gave Wesley a look but persevered. 'You took me to a place and said that it was a grand killing field, but I couldn't see it. Don't you remember?'
Angel suddenly did and frowned, unwilling to relax enough to join in the conversation, but drawn in despite his better intention. 'Wegbergen.'
Wesley frowned. 'Wasn't that where one of the most notorious concentration…?'
'Exactly. See? Like I told you. Angel… Angelus… had a premonition, I reckon.'
Angel looked at Spike and shrugged, trying to hide his pleasure in his childe's evident pride. 'I could feel the pain.'
Wesley seemed intrigued. 'Can you still do that? I mean, do you still have premonitions - predict death and the like?'
Angel smiled pleasantly. 'I had one earlier today when you suggested going out with Spike.' Once more, despite his intention to be as unpleasant as he could all night, Angel smiled a little at Spike's snort of amusement.
Not fully understanding the comment, Wesley nevertheless felt a judicious need for more alcohol and got up to buy the next round. Angel sat back against the seat and played with a small spill of beer on the table.
'What's wrong, Angel? I'm trying to do the right thing here.'
Angel looked up sharply. 'Are you a frigging robot or something now?'
Spike pouted. 'Don't be stupid.'
'No. I mean it. You turn up here all squeaky clean - no fucking coat, pissant hair, butter won't melt up your butt - and I'm supposed to believe that this is you?'
'Why not me? A man can change.'
'You are not a man.'
Spike leant forward. 'You changed.'
Angel looked defensive. 'The soul changed me.'
Spike shook his head. 'Not for the better like this. It didn't make you a frigging champion. Buffy changed you. You were slinking in alleyways eating rats until you saw her - soul didn't help you much then.'
'And you're saying Buffy's changed you?'
'She makes me want to change, yes - why not? Jeez, it could have been her… three days with that thing…. I work alongside her every day, Angel. You get close like that.'
Angel was saved from staking Spike by the arrival of the drinks. Spike immediately switched his attention from Angel to the human and asked Wesley something about the agency. Angel sat and listened to them talk and thought about what Spike had said. He had come to no useful conclusion when Wesley, with an inevitable, weak joke about humans needing things vampires didn't, got up to pee. As soon as he was out of earshot, Angel leant forward and said, 'I want you gone tomorrow.'
Spike played with his glass. 'No.'
'I like it here. I like Wesley. I'm bored, and I need a change. 'Sides, I heard Dru might be in town.'
Angel placed a hand over Spike's wrist, but immediately regretted even that swift touch and snatched it back. Spike laughed. 'Don't worry, Angel, even you couldn't fuck me in a public bar.'
Angel stood up swiftly and towered over Spike. He didn't care that he was attracting attention.
'Oh, excellent, another round. I'll have a whisky this time, if I may.'
Spike suppressed a smirk at Angel's discomfort and said causally, 'My round.' He stood up, pushing past Wesley. Somewhat at a loss, Angel followed him to the bar.
'I'll get them.'
Spike turned with an unreadable expression. 'I can afford to buy you a drink, Angel.'
'I get money when I need it.'
'Yes, from Buffy.'
'You give good service, do you Spike?'
'I don't know, Angel. Do I? Just relax, yeah. If you don't want to enjoy the drink, just bugger off. Nothing has happened between me and Buffy; she hates me as much as you do.' If the flawed logic of this struck Spike, he didn't let it show and took the three drinks back to the table.
Wesley was checking his calls and got up when they approached. 'Gunn wants me to call him. Excuse me for a minute.'
Spike sat down with a weary sigh. 'Should have stuck to my book. It would'a been more fun than this.'
'Hate is too strong a word. I don't hate you - much.'
Spike looked amused and leant back in the seat. 'See? I said you'd changed - new record an' all.'
'It was Wesley who amended the robot - made it per….'
'I know. He told me.'
Angel looked up and caught Spike's gaze. 'When? Why didn't you say something?'
'Why, Angel? You'd made up your mind that you hated me, and I guess I kinda agree with you.'
Angel ran a hand distractedly through his hair. 'It was never hate. I-You hurt me.' He winced slightly at the unfamiliar confession.
He winced some more when Spike caught at his wrist with a painful grip. 'You fucking murdered me, drank all my blood and turned me into a demon. Who's hurt the most, Angel?'
Angel wrenched his wrist away. 'So, all of this is my fault?'
Spike shook his head wearily. 'Let's not do this, hey? Fault, blame, hurt, recrimination. I'm sick of it all, Angel. I came here to help the guys out a bit, get away from Buffy - who's going through one of her I-really-do-hate-Spike times of the month - and have a little fun.'
'And find Dru….'
As if caught out in a lie he'd been perfecting for some time, Spike laughed warily. 'Course. Find Drusilla as well. See? Lot's of reasons to be here.'
'But none of them me?'
'Do you want to be included in my list of things to do in LA? Cus it ain't gonna happen.'
Angel hung his head very low, and then lifted his eyes. 'If you touch Wesley while you are here in LA, I will kill you.'
'Can I pass him tea, or is it just my dick you want kept separate?'
Angel reared back, not used to his best threatening look being so flippantly treated. Before he could counter, Wesley returned. 'Demons. Sorry.'
They rose together, and as much as Angel wanted to stop Spike accompanying them, even he could see that would be foolish. They walked to where he'd parked, and Wesley climbed into the back. Spike looked at the available spaces and said, more to himself than for general consumption, 'Better sit in front then, case I touch anything.'
Angel knew this had been pitched for his ears but ignored it.
They drove in silence for a while, except for a rapid tapping of Spike's fingers on the door. Angel smiled evilly. 'Need a cigarette?'
Spike turned with a smile. 'I'm getting good at denying myself things I want; you should try it sometime.'
Angel wasn't too sure whether Spike wasn't making a veiled comment on his weight, so was denied the opportunity to point out that he didn't want him.
Following the directions they'd been given, they arrived at an abandoned warehouse. Wesley and Angel exchanged small glances of inevitability at the scene, and at that small exchange - the first friendly one they'd shared for so long - Angel gave a tiny, rueful grin. 'Come on.'
He got weapons out of the trunk and handed them around. Wesley hefted the axe over his shoulder and walked firmly toward the entrance. Spike turned to follow him, and Angel was struck for the first time how deceptively vulnerable Spike looked. He had never seen him devoid of his demonic trappings before. Without his coat, his black clothes, his jewellery, his harsh hair colour and his habitual cigarette, he looked more like an actor playing a role than a vampire about to slaughter demons. Angel jogged to catch him up. 'Be careful.'
Spike turned to him with a look. 'You've been plotting and enjoying my slow, painful death all night; why the sudden concern?'
Angel couldn't help chuckling at Spike's so accurate jibe. 'Yeah, well. I'm allowed to kill you. They aren't.'
Amazingly, Spike leant into his arm a little and said softly, 'If I ever get staked, Angel, I'll want it to be you, yeah? Now, come on; I'm trying to be a super hero here. Oh, please someone, let there be kittens to save.' He cocked up his eyebrow, gave Angel a cheeky grin and dived into the battle.
Angel could no longer deny how valuable Spike was to his cause. He was his strength doubled. Spike shed his illusion of vulnerability as easily as he appeared to have shed his coat, and once more he was a blur of fighting power. Angel could turn his back on his humans for the first time and know that they would be safe. He could actually enjoy the fight without the constant fear that he might lose one of them from some small slip of his, some momentary lack of concentration.
More importantly, he could enjoy Spike. He had forgotten how beautiful he was when he fought, how the lithe body came alive and seemed to dance with energy. He felt his own body surging with power in response. He kicked higher, spun faster, dodged quicker, and before long, he glanced over to find that they were almost fighting in tandem: a matched pair of invincibility. For the first time in what seemed a very long time, Angel felt less miserable. When the fight came to its inevitably successful conclusion, he looked around at his friends with a flicker of pride and gratitude that they were just that: friends.
They all sensed the change in Angel's mood as they walked back to the cars. Cordelia, as senior friend, even risked teasing Angel a little about his moodiness, and although she did not say PMS outright, they all got the implication. The small group froze, waiting for the explosion. Angel just nodded and flung his sword into the trunk. 'Better to be a bitch than marry one, I guess. Who's riding with me?'
Fred was the only one who climbed in. Angel looked at Spike. Spike toed the ground for a moment then looked back up at him. 'I'll see you tomorrow, yeah?'
Angel blinked and then nodded. 'Yes. Come in with Wesley if you want. There's always things you can do.' He climbed in alongside Fred and drove off without looking back. That night, Angel slept deeply for the first time in over four months. He woke with a sense of expectancy for the coming day - something he had also not done for far too long. By the time he'd showered and dressed, the others had all arrived, and he came down stairs to a scene of peace, and quiet focus.
He couldn't see Spike and went into the kitchen with a slight frown. Spike was sitting at the table, reading. Angel chuckled. 'Same book?'
Spike smiled. 'Oh, yeah.'
Angel helped himself to some blood from the fridge and had the irresistible desire to cook something. He tried to remember the last time he'd made breakfast for his friends but couldn't, and concluded that it must have been a very long time ago. He was about to put eggs into a pan when he hesitated and said quietly, 'You want breakfast?'
There was a long silence, but eventually Spike said, 'Thanks,' equally quietly.
One by one, the smell of cooking bacon drew the humans into the kitchen. The two vampires were surrounded by unexpectedly happy people, chatting and eating, making tea and coffee, arguing and laughing. It was difficult for them not to be drawn into the general high spirits, and Angel even found himself laughing once or twice, before he caught himself doing it and stopped.
Although Spike had said he wanted food, he did not eat much and fairly quickly left the kitchen to the hungry humans, wandering into the lobby.
Angel watched him go, glanced at the lowered heads engrossed in the food and followed him out.
Spike was sitting at Cordelia's desk with his feet up, swinging on the chair, pushing it just enough to threaten tipping before snatching it back. Angel noticed he was wearing the trainers and jeans he'd arrived in the day before and frowned at the way they made him look so deceptively young and innocent.
Spike sensed his presence and turned, lowering the chair to the floor. He narrowed his eyes slightly at Angel's look. 'You okay with me being here now?'
Angel made a pretence of straightening something on the desk. 'You've enabled them to relax. You can stay for a couple of days.'
'Thanks.' Spike took his feet off the desk and stood up slowly. 'And you?'
Angel flashed him a look. 'Me?'
'Yeah. You… relaxed about things a bit more?'
'Ah. Just as well I'm staying with Wes then.'
Angel only gritted his teeth and went into his own office.
It was a very quiet day, and after an hour or so of doing nothing, Spike declared he was going to explore the local sewers and look for some action. Gunn looked up with a glint of excitement in his eye, but Fred coughed a quiet denial, and he gave Spike a small sheepish look. Wesley looked up too. 'I could do with a good work out. Perhaps I'll accompany you.'
Spike shrugged. ''K. I wanna travel fast though, ya know? Feeling all….' He gave a small shudder as if trapped in something.
Wesley nodded amiably, and then said loudly towards the closed office door, 'Angel?'
Angel appeared slightly too quickly. 'I'm busy.'
Spike raised an eyebrow. ''K. I'll go alone.'
Angel frowned. 'What if you run into humans?'
'I know this is LA, Angel, but… in the sewers?'
'It could happen.'
'Come with me then.'
Angel felt as if all eyes were on him - as if the import of that momentous offer was understood and shared by his friends. Quite why they weren't looking at him and were chatting amongst themselves about movies, therefore, puzzled him. Eventually, he just nodded and went toward the weapons' cabinet.
They were silent for a long time, navigating the network of tunnels under LA. Angel watched Spike for while, slightly amused by the way he sauntered along, obviously in no hurry and not apparently looking for anything to kill. Eventually, as he watched Spike trailing his axe slowly down the brick wall, he said, 'I thought your plan was to travel fast?'
Spike turned to him and grinned. 'Nah. I just wanted you to come, not him.'
Angel felt a surge of pleasure wash through him and allowed a small smile to show. He caught Spike up, and they walked side by side for a few minutes before Spike said quietly, 'Can we do this, Angel? Can we be friends?'
Bizarrely, at Spike's words, Angel had an immediate flash back to another tunnel in the dark and another blond asking him the same question. He'd said no to Buffy… they couldn't… that what they had was too intense - all or nothing. Angel pouted at the memory. Despite what he'd professed to her - his noble, self-sacrificing sentiment that he was letting her go to move on - he'd kind of expected her to stay loyal, pining for him, holding him in her heart, unable to move on. Yeah - some hope. Angel suddenly grinned, realising why Buffy hadn't differentiated Warren's creation from him: she'd already fucked a robot, albeit one in military uniform. Angel shook himself slightly and came back to the point in question.
Could he be friends with Spike?
Fuck yeah, he could - if that meant Spike wouldn't move on - if that meant he could keep Spike possessively at his side - if that meant Spike would be unable to find someone new….
A quick image flashed into Angel's mind of Spike with Riley - moving on - and he growled faintly. Suddenly, he realised it had gone very quiet and that they had stopped moving. He looked up to find a pair of amused, very quizzical eyes watching him.
With gritted teeth, he waved Spike on, and as they were walking said distinctly and very precisely, 'Yes. Friends. Why not? Good idea, Spike.'
There was no reply, but Angel swore that he almost heard a faint snort from his childe. He ignored it and brought Riley back to mind again and enjoyed running through his list of ways he could kill him slowly. It was a very long list because it was a work in progress - added to in quiet moments when he got bored.
They came into a small chamber illuminated from light streaking down through a broken manhole cover. Spike hopped up on a wall that ran around the outside and sat, swinging his legs, looking at Angel. 'That took you a while to decide.'
Angel pouted. 'Things have to be thought through.'
'Brooded on, you mean.'
'Planned, and all contingencies taken into account.'
'No plan survives contact with the enemy, Angel. You should know that.'
'Are you my enemy?'
Spike grinned. 'No, and I'm not having contact either.'
Angel looked up with an expression of amused outrage, and Spike laughed. He hopped off the wall and gave Angel a friendly poke in the belly. 'There ya go. Friends already. Come on, let's go kill something.'
Angel wanted to catch at the hand and pull his new friend into a far friendlier embrace, but he restrained and, instead, took the simple friendship that was on offer.
They spent the whole day in the underground tunnels, sometimes hunting demons, sometimes hunting each other just for the practice and fun of it. They felt an increasingly easy intimacy in each other's company, to the extent that when they returned, they almost found it odd to be in the humans' company once again.
Wesley was about to leave and looked pleased when the two vampires came into the lobby. 'Ah, good. I was wondering where you two had gone. Come on then, Spike.'
Angel sensed Spike's hesitation. He longed to repeat his offer that Spike could stay. Spike gave Angel a small, unreadable look and, handing back the axe, went out with Wesley.
The hotel seemed particularly empty that night. Angel rattled around in it, missing Spike's company more than he cared to admit. When he was sitting at his desk, he wished Spike were in the chair reading. When he was feeding, he wanted Spike to share the blood with him. As he went to his room, he repressed the thought that he wanted Spike there too, for that was not what they were about these days.
Angel fell asleep more confused by Spike than he had been when they were bitter enemies, and his dreams were disturbed by images of a bloodlust that he could not satisfy however many victims his sleeping, unfettered demon destroyed.
He awoke to the sound of shouting and panic, so akin to what had been in his dreams that he did not at first react. When the individual voices - and what they were saying - registered, he sprung off the bed, pulled on some jeans and raced barefoot down the stairs. Spike was lying on the floor of the lobby being tended to, rather ineffectually, by Wesley and Fred. His whole body appeared to be smoking, and when Angel got closer, he could smell the burnt flesh. He growled and fell to his knees alongside the prone figure. Spike was clearly conscious but had internalised his pain and, with his eyes shut, was lying very still and silent.
'I'm so sorry, Angel. I was getting out of the car…. Spike was getting out under his blanket. I slammed the door, and the blanket was…. He was burning and couldn't get it out…. I rushed him inside. God, I'm so sorry. Spike?'
Spike nodded as if to confirm this version, and Angel almost felt the waves of pain from the burns. ''S okay, Mate. I'll heal in a mo. Always do. Done this a thousand times, and I'll do it again, most like.'
'Is there anything I can get you, Spike? I am so sorry.'
Spike grinned, despite the burns on his face. 'Nice juicy virgin, pre-chewed?'
Wesley smiled. 'Wrong city for one of those, I'm afraid.'
Angel helped Spike up, and they eased him onto one of the couches. Fred wanted to put him in a cool bath, but he gave her a look of such derision at the suggestion that she demurred all further offers of assistance. At her expression, Spike said gently, 'I could use some blood, Pet. Any chance you could….' She leapt at the suggestion to be useful and ran to the kitchen.
Wesley looked down at Spike. 'Will you be okay for a minute?'
Spike shrugged very carefully, and Wesley shifted his gaze to Angel. 'May I speak with you for a moment? In private.'
Angel didn't appear to be listening. His gaze was fixed on Spike with an unwavering intensity. Eventually, Wesley put a hand on his arm, and only then did Angel look up. When the request was repeated, he nodded and followed the human into his office.
As soon as the door was shut, Wesley rounded on him. 'Really, Angel, this is too bad!'
Angel looked peeved. 'What? You burnt him; I was asleep.'
'Yes, I know. But he shouldn't have to stay with me when you have a bloody empty hotel here. If you'd made him a bit more welcome… if you just put aside this ludicrous antipathy you have for the poor chap, he wouldn't have….'
Angel was too outraged at this complete distortion of the truth to plan his words as carefully as he usually did. 'Poor chap?' He immediately dropped his awful impression of Wesley's accent but continued in the same angry tones. 'That's William the Bloody, as you were only too recently very keen to remind me. He makes Darla look like a picnic, Wesley, believe me.'
Wesley gave a dismissive wave of his hand. 'That's as may be, Angel, but it's all in the past. He's changed. A simpleton could see that, and I think it's a pretty poor show that he's had to do this dash every day and stay with me, which hasn't been exactly restful for either of us… and did you know he suffers from nightmares?'
Angel shook his head, trying to catch up. 'Still?'
'Ah, so you did. Very violent ones I should think by the way he thrashes about.'
Angel sat very carefully on the edge of his desk and studied a split in one nail with great concentration. 'You've experienced the thrashing?'
'Unfortunately. He's extremely strong even when he's asleep, isn't he?'
Angel suddenly got up and went back into the lobby, noticing with pleasure the lessening in the burns even in this short time. 'You're staying here from now on. If you don't want to, then you can fuck off somewhere else.'
Spike smiled at the odd logic. 'I like having friends with big… hotels.'
Angel looked deeply into Spike's eyes. He saw and heard the gentle mockery that this new relationship made possible and chuckled. 'Huge, Spike - huge would be more accurate.'
Spike laughed outright and nodded. 'Okay. Fifteen inches.'
Shaking his head at his recalcitrant childe, Angel offered him a hand. Spike stared at it for a moment then allowed Angel to pull him to his feet.