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Spike was feeling almost cheerful when he wandered into the offices twenty-four hours later. He was over the almost stultifying panic he’d experienced at finding Angel missing, and was resigned to the fact that his sire, his lover, didn’t always lead an ordinary life. Missing, for Angel, didn’t necessarily mean….
He refused to go any further with those kinds of thoughts. He was over his panic. No need to bring it back to the surface again.
He was so sanguine that he almost killed Wesley, and would have done if the man hadn’t have begun crying.
It had started as he’d emerged from the basement to the lower floors—a sense of extreme unease at the looks people were giving him. Twenty-four hours ago they’d been looks of wonder and admiration; now people looked as if they were wishing they weren’t looking at him—as if they wanted to be looking anywhere else but at him.
He tried to ignore them and rode up in the elevator.
Harmony looked up from her desk as he emerged, stared wildly at him then ran off toward the copier. Spike debated following her, but he reasoned he’d get a more coherent explanation from Wesley.
He bit the side of one nail as he walked down the hallway, walking increasingly slowly until he actually came to a stop before he crossed the threshold. He realised what he was doing and took the now bloodied finger out of his mouth. The taste of blood revived, calmed and appalled him in equal measure, and the confusion of this—this inability to be what he was supposed to be—annoyed him enough to call that killing spirit back. He was a demon. He didn’t panic about another inconsequential demon’s whereabouts.
He marched into Wesley’s office, confident and calm and ready to start the day.
Wesley was standing with his back to the room, staring out at his view. This was odd enough; Wesley never appreciated anything that wasn’t two feet in front of his nose and giving him an intellectual challenge.
Spike approached warily, and anyone watching might have misread the scene: vampire slowly approaching unaware human.
He got close enough for his breath to brush Wesley’s hair and said, ‘Hi.’
Spike felt a stab of something in his gut and said furiously, ‘What? What the fuck is wrong with everyone today?’
Wesley cleared his throat and tried to regroup. He hedged around Spike and sat at his desk, pulling his comforters toward him. ‘It’s rather bad…. Word on the street…. God. Has no one had the balls to tell you? The word on the street—very reliable word—is that… is that…. I’m afraid Angel is dead.’
Spike licked his lips, drilling into the man’s skull with his gaze. He needed to extract the other version of this confession. ‘Angel’s sent a rather cryptic message about demons, end of the world and such like. He expects to be back for tea and medals.’
However hard he drilled, this message was not there. That’s when he saw himself killing Wesley. Don’t kill the messenger? Why the fuck not? Who else do you take your fucking wrath out on but the sad fuck of the messenger?
He didn’t remember whether he actually took a step toward the hunched figure. He thought he might have done. But the shoulders started shaking, and a strange heart-wrenching sob emerged from this pillar of restraint and stiff Englishness. Spike took his step forward, but he said calmly, ‘I don’t believe it. I’d know, Wesley. I’d just know.’
Wesley stood up, his movements clumsy and harsh. He snatched up a piece of paper from the desk. ‘Do you want to read it for yourself? He was surrounded. They took him down, Spike! Angelus. They thought he was Angelus, and they taunted him until….’
‘I don’t care what that dumb piece of shit says! It’s lies!’
‘Twenty four hours ago you were….’
‘No! I was NOT. And this isn’t true now!’
‘Well, I suggest we just wait then, shall we? Because, you know what, Spike? I’m with you on this. Let’s not believe Angel is gone. Let’s pretend that it’s not true and that our lives will go on without him!’ He thrust the paper at Spike, crushing it against the strong chest. He leant a little longer than necessary then straightened and began to walk stiffly toward the door.
Spike caught him up before he made it to the hallway and snatched him around. He pushed his face close. ‘Even death couldn’t keep him from me.’
Wesley’s eyes filled and became limpid, but he said icily, ‘Romantic human crap, Spike?’
Spike narrowed his eyes. ‘If it is, I caught it off you. You infected me. In fact, you’re to blame for everything! And I’m going to blame you for everything from now on! Everything! So, if you wanna avoid getting me in a bad mood—and I strongly suggest you do want to avoid getting me in a bad mood—you sort this! You FIND HIM!’
He shoved past and strode out to the hallway.
He refused to hear the soft, ‘I can’t even find myself now, Spike. I’m entirely lost without him.’
Now the nervous glances made him want to revert. His whole body shook with the need to release his demon face, but he didn’t relent. He kept his body under control. It was important; Angel needed him.
He crashed into the lab and stood with his hands on his hips, staring at Illyria. She was staring at a beam of sunlight, her eyes seeming to see beyond the illumination Spike could detect.
‘What do you want, half-breed?’
‘That the other who demeans me with his presence is gone? Yes.’
‘Okay. Let’s start as we mean to go on; Angel is not gone. Angel is temporarily not here, and I’m—we’re—gonna find him.’
‘You expect me to….’
Spike stepped right into her face and mimed zipping his mouth. Her eyes widened fractionally, but when she began to speak again he widened his even more and sucked his lips tighter closed. She faltered then made a small noise as if starting again. He jerked his head to one side, the threat evident.
She was silent.
‘Okay. You’re going to help me find him.’
‘You speak as one who cannot face reality. Is this a disease of the unreal?’
‘I may not know many things, but one thing I do know: bossy bloody women. One word out of you except Oh! Look! There’s Angel! and I’ll see what a nice shade of yellow you can go.’
Illyria frowned. ‘Yellow?’
Spike hesitated. ‘Well, yeah, cus I’ll make you sick—which is green, and cus you’re blue… and then… you’ll be…. Forget it!’
She smiled, genuinely amused. ‘I will help you. You intrigue me.’
Spike smiled, pleased.
‘I am intrigued how any creature with such impaired intellect can function as well as you apparently do.’
Spike narrowed his eyes, lit a cigarette and blew smoke at her. ‘Right. Angel. Let’s go.’
Ingram got bored of abusing Angel with objects. He’d let his imagination run riot. He’d played out scenes he’d witnessed in bathhouses and S&M dungeons. After the first insertion of the baseball bat, which had produced a satisfactory result, nothing had broken through the catatonic state the vampire had fallen into.
After two days, when his creativity took a dive, Ingram took out his mindless frustration on the body: kicking and beating it, making it bleed, ruining its smooth perfection.
That had lasted a day on and off. Then he’d gotten creative again. He began to study the bleeding form, ideas occurring to him, curiosity returning. He was a scientist. He ran his hands over Angel as his hero had once run his hands over his victims: affectionate, wondering. What made him tick? What animated the corpse? Where lay the soul?
Gradually, his torture of the silent, still form became systematic. Would flesh removed from body and bone dust when staked? Could fingers grow from bloodied stumps? At what temperature did flesh ignite? Could bones be replaced in their absence?
Engrossed in his work, feeling the German scientist beside him as he probed and explored, he escaped his own body for a while and felt a sense of happiness he had not felt for a very long time.
With the happiness came return of libido. It was fortunate he had Angel, really. He made full use of Angel’s body that way, too.
Spike had no plan, but he wanted to walk the route from his apartment to the offices. Angel’s car had been found parked behind the bar, so he wanted to recreate his journey.
They stood on his doorstep, and Spike pulled a map out of his pocket. Illyria took it from him, the graphical representation of the city seeming to fascinate her even more than his brain. She studied it intently as they walked. They drew a few curious stares, but Spike ignored them. Every single molecule of his being was tuned into Angel. He conjured his voice in his mind, the feel of his hair as it lay wet from the shower, the taste of his skin when licked, the weight of his balls as they lay on his palm, the feel of him inside. When he blinked, Angel’s rare smile was before him. When he took breath, Angel was his air. As he walked, Angel’s power animated his body.
It was all for nothing. He could not catch one tendril of Angel’s essence.
He stopped to stare in the window of a shop. Illyria lifted her head from the map. ‘What do you see?’
Spike turned his head to look back across the street. ‘Are we being followed?’
He stared back through the glass then shrugged and moved on.
Just before he rounded a corner, Illyria said, ‘There are twelve ways he could have gone.’
Spike stopped. ‘Huh?’
‘Twelve. I have calculated all the permutations from this flat city. There are twelve alternate routes that would achieve the same object.’
Spike snatched the map from her hand. ‘Let me see.’
He turned it this way and that for a while. ‘Bugger.’
He looked up, staring at the corner, as if debating far more than the two steps it would take to go round it. For the first time, he caught Angel’s essence, but he knew it was an illusion—knew he was deluded.
Very softly, he said, ‘Help me.’
Illyria tipped her head to one side, studying him with the same intensity he looked at the route. ‘Why should I concern myself with the death of a mongrel demon who imprisoned me and stole my power?’
Spike turned his eyes to her. Blue locked on blue. ‘Because somewhere inside you, Fred still loves Angel, and Fred would want to help him.’
Illyria jerked her head back. Spike frowned. ‘What?’
‘That is what the unpleasant one said when he sought you.’
Spike swallowed. ‘Oh.’
They stood in uneasy proximity for a moment until Spike murmured, ‘What did you tell him—Angel, when he needed your help?’
She faltered slightly. Her gaze drifted to his hair, down, along his body. ‘I come to want this passion you seem to share. I am envious.’
Spike’s face contorted, and he looked sharply to one side.
She continued to watch him. ‘I was ungenerous.’
Spike finally dipped his face into his hands, lighting a cigarette, but he knew she wasn’t fooled by the gesture.
She glanced back the way they had come. ‘This is not the way to find him. We are only two. To win you have to dominate. Come.’
He stayed behind her as they walked back to Wolfram and Hart, and she let him stay there, respecting his dignity.
Wesley refused to come to a meeting, so Spec Ops was dispatched to bring him.
Gunn came willingly. Lorne was late, but he made an appearance, if a slightly unsteady one.
When they were assembled, Spike strode into the conference room, flanked by Illyria and took Angel’s place at the head of the table. Illyria stood at his shoulder, and her slim presence spoke more menace than they’d seen in a meeting for a long time.
Spike looked around and frowned. ‘Where’s Harmony?’
Wesley’s mutinous look slipped to one of puzzlement, but before he could speak, Spike rose again and strode out. He came back with Harmony captured and escorted her to a chair.
She sat, seemingly a little dazed, but Spike said pointedly, ‘You fucking knew him best after me. Where else would you be?’
She half-smiled, seemed to remember that she was grieving and pouted once more.
Spike leant back and folded his arms. ‘You’re all a fucking shower.’
As Wesley (also being English) seemed to be the only one who got that this didn’t actually involve any reference to water, Spike cursed under his breath and regrouped. ‘I’m taking over. I’m the new CEO of Wolfram and Hart.’ He looked at each one in turn and added deceptively genially, ‘Anyone got a problem with that?’
Wesley rubbed a hand over his considerable stubble, a waft of stale whisky and sweat emanating from him. ‘What’s the point, Spike?’
Spike leant forward. ‘The point is that Angel hated this fucking law firm. He hated working here, and he hated having to compromise what he was day after day. Well, now he needs this place—the power and the resources this bloody organisation can call upon. So, I’m going for a little dramatic fucking irony. Wolfram and Hart will use every—and I mean every—resource available, and it will find its CEO. And when he’s found, I’ll step down. Is there a single person around this table who isn’t one hundred percent behind me on this?’ He appeared to have finished, but then added casually, ‘Oh, by the way, I recommend that you reply in the negative there. I would be very upset if anyone thought that yes was the right answer. Very upset.’
Gunn swallowed and shook his head. Lorne gave a wobbly smile. Wesley turned his red-rimmed dark eyes on him. After an eon, he made a small negative gesture as well.
Spike spread his hands out on the table, no sign of relief, no sign that he’d expected anything different. ‘Gunn. Go through every single case Angel has handled since he took this fucking job. Make a list of every enemy he’s made. I need to know locations, strengths and weaknesses.’ Gunn nodded and rose, already motivated and raring to do something practical. Spike watched him leave then turned his eyes to Lorne. ‘Gossip.’ Lorne’s eyebrow’s rose fractionally, and Spike almost smiled. ‘You hit every single bar in L.A., and you listen to the gossip. I want to know who’s lied about Angel’s death. I want to know who’s holding him and where he is. You can’t keep anything from fucking demons. You listen, and you hear well.’ Lorne nodded.
Harmony coughed discretely. ‘I’ll do bars, too, Spikey! I’m good at bars!’
Spike smiled indulgently on her. ‘You do employees.’
‘I do not! Who told you that! It was only you, oh, and the guy from the….’
‘I need for you to talk to the people here. You know them. Who’s nervous? Who scurries to their car at night?’ He paused, seemed to reconsider and added, ‘Okay, who does that more than usual.’
She rose and made a mock salute. ‘Okay, Boss!’ Spinning on her elegant kitten heels, she left.
Spike turned to Wesley and paused.
Wesley made a small self-deprecating gesture. ‘I’ll hit the books.’
‘No, actually, you won’t. You are the strongest of us all, Wes, only you don’t know it. You’ve never had Angel tell you, and that’s a mistake I’ll have him rectify when he gets back. You’re in charge of Special Ops. You take the team out, and you break bodies, you cause pain—you do any damn thing you have to, but you find who’s holding Angel.’
Wesley pursed his lips then glanced at Illyria. She stared back with her icy eyes. ‘I wish to break and cause pain. I will accompany you.’
Spike rose. ‘Right. We regroup here in twelve hours. Get to it.’ He strode out, leaving the three remaining in uncomfortable silence.
Very deliberately, Wesley straightened his blotter. Lorne fiddled with a button that was coming loose. A soft English voice broke the silence. ‘He needs to let go.’
There was no reply for a while until Illyria, fixing him with her gaze, said uncharacteristically sadly, ‘He already has. This is his way of coping.’
Spike chaired the next meeting. Twelve hours and he hadn’t eaten or slept, but he wasn’t aware of these things.
There was nothing, not from the employees, not from the streets or bars or broken demons. No one knew anything except that the great Angelus had finally been taken.
The next meeting he attended, but he seemed to have nothing much to say and just left after a few minutes of uncomfortable silence.
Out of respect for Spike, they all turned up twelve hours later for the forth meeting, but Spike didn’t. The chair he’d filled for a brief time stayed empty, and eventually they parted to their respective offices, wondering whether there was any point in this or anything else.
Spike couldn’t stay, but he couldn’t leave either. Something bound him to the edifice that was Wolfram and Hart, and something repelled him. He hung between these two extremes, incorporeal—far more so than when he had been mere essence.
For the first time in his life, he had nowhere to go that would take him closer to Angel. For that’s what it sometimes seemed that he did: followed his sire, seeking him out. Once, they’d even collided in a submarine under the vast ocean fighting on different sides of a conflict that should not have concerned them. Food fighting other food—that’s all it should have been.
It was all gone now: the fighting, the shouting, the hating, and the complete bewilderment that led them to explore all of these and never what they really wanted. Except for this last time.
Spike wished they’d not unravelled the mystery. He wished they’d stopped before this, stopped at the fighting and the shouting and the hating and the bewilderment, wished they’d not reached the loving, not found this at the core of what they were.
Unravelled, it was hard to stay upright, walk and talk like a man, which he was, essentially, under the masks that he wore. He was just a man who was finding it hard to go on.
Eventually, as hours turned to days, Spike realised what everyone else seemed to have known from the beginning. He still didn’t really believe it—not in the parts of him that had been filled with Angel and were now empty—but he accepted it. Once he’d done that, there was no reason for him to remain at Wolfram and Hart.
He just made the decision and acted on it. He rose from the couch in Angel’s office, said nothing to anyone, and rode down in the elevator heading for the garage.
Someone must have summoned the elevator on another floor, for it stopped on three. Cursing, agitated, and not willing to have this sudden departure delayed, he decided to take the stairs. When the doors opened, he strode out and tumbled inelegantly over a maintenance cart.
He was in the mood for killing, and, deep joy, here was someone to kill. He picked himself up off the floor but paused, studying the janitor.
After a few moments, he nodded ruefully and bent to light a cigarette. He reckoned he’d have a wait a while longer before he became a real demon. Right now, he stopped and talked to people, listened, saw into their hearts. It’s what he did—couldn’t change that just because he had no heart left.
He waved at the scattered equipment and said softly, ‘Kinda late to be mopping, ain’t it?’
The young man seemed to melt with gratitude. He nodded furiously then glanced around fearfully. Spike followed his eyes.
The boy licked his thin lips and stepped a little closer to whisper fearfully, ‘Haunted.’
Spike jerked his head back. It was almost enjoyable: discovering he had a tiny bit of emotion left, even if it was only incredulity. ‘Haunted? As in ghosts?’
The boy shook his head. ‘Mind zombies. Jack said they roam the hallways at night waiting to suck out your brain.’
Spike was half-tempted to ask him, in that case, why he was worried, but felt his humour would fall on stony ground. ‘Who’s this Jack?’
The boy’s eyes widened as if not knowing Jack was beyond his comprehension. ‘The super.’
‘Ah.’ Spike narrowed his eyes. ‘And he makes you do the nightshift and then tells you nice little bedtime stories about brain-sucking zombies.’
The boy nodded dismally.
Spike bent and picked up one of the mops he’d knocked over and took his time putting it back into the cart. Conversationally, he said, ‘You know who I am, don’t you?’
The boy shook his head.
Spike smiled inwardly, faintly amused by this somehow. Sometime in the future, when a semblance of life had returned, he wondered if he’d laugh at the level of self-absorption he’d managed to achieve over Angel’s death.
‘I’m Spike—the bloke who eats brain-sucking zombies for breakfast? I’m the one zombies tell their kids scary stories about. I’m the one THEY fear.’ He kept his fingers metaphorically crossed and straightened the mop once more.
He didn’t get the response he was hoping for. Sweat broke out on the boy’s face and he wailed, ‘But they got Bennie!’
Spike tried to look interested. ‘Bennie?’
‘Yeah. Bennie and me were good friends. Did the hallway outside Seven’s room together. Him on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and me on the rest.’
Spike really wished he’d just kicked the cart and left in a storm of black leather. ‘Seven?’
Incredulity again. Apparently Seven was as famous as Jack. ‘Seven of Nine?’ He waved his hands as if outlining a curvy shape and glanced toward the lab.
Spike followed his look. It was something to do, and he was passing moments in the eternity that was now his to endure. Comprehension came, and he nodded. ‘Illyria.’
‘Yeah. Bennie was doing the hallway, and the zombies got him.’
Spike frowned. ‘Killed him?’
The boy seemed to be enjoying his captive audience now and lowered his voice theatrically. ‘Not at first. They sucked out his brain!’
‘Uh huh. So, mop man became, what? Zombie-like?’ There were worst things than a conversation with Harmony. He was almost intrigued.
‘He wasn’t Bennie. He was all….’ The boy suddenly toed the ground. ‘He got mean. I didn’t like him any more.’
‘So, he gets a bit cranky, and you think… hell! He’s mopping the floors in fucking Wolfram and Hart for a living, and you think he was got by flesh-eating zombies!’
The boy looked wounded. ‘Brain-sucking. He killed his Mom.’ He suddenly began to cry. ‘Bennie lived with his Mom cus he had problems, see? Needed help with things, like knowing when it was time to get up, and what to wear. But he did this job real good. Was so proud when things looked nice—said his Mom would be proud of him. I went round, on the Thursday—after he was so mean cus the zombies got him—cus I wanted to say sorry that I made him mad. That if he wanted me to do… those things… you know… dirty things with him, then I guess that was all right. But I knocked and knocked, and then when I looked in the window out back, she was there! She was there! In the chair and there was so much blood, and he was… with the knife….’
‘Whoa.’ Spike took his arm.
‘An’ I couldn’t tell anyone! I was too scared, cus he came back in the next day like nothing happened.’
‘So, this brain-sucking zombie mother-killer is still here?’
The boy shook his head with a huge sigh. ‘They ate him two weeks ago.’
Spike took a deep drag on his cigarette. The nicotine didn’t help the impression that he was in a bad episode of the Twilight Zone. Next time he came back, he’d be someone who didn’t stop and talk to people. Much easier.
The boy was talking more to himself now than Spike, and he played with the handle of the cart. ‘He was doing his Wednesday night—still wanted to hang around the lab, see, even though he was a zombie.’ He looked conspiratorial. ‘He was stealing things. Hid them in his cart. Then we couldn’t find ‘im. He just walked out of the rest room, and we never saw him again.’
Spike looked down at the floor. A version of that thought had been going around in his mind for two weeks, too: Angel just walked out, and I’ll never….
Spike felt his stomach drop. Like he’d been sucked up in an elevator going too fast. He couldn’t get his breath. He tried not to startle the boy, but he’d already backed off at something he saw in Spike’s expression.
‘What night did he get brain sucked by the zombies?’
‘On my Birthday.’
Spike visibly saw himself tear the boy’s skull open and suck his brain out. Anything to have the information he had in there.
‘When is your Birthday?’
‘September the fourth?’ He still couldn’t catch his breath, and as he didn’t need to breathe, his body was in as much confusion as his mind. ‘When did he disappear—get eaten?’
‘Two weeks last Wednesday.’
Spike began to run.
The elevator was too slow so he pounded up the stairs.
He flew through the lobby and crashed into Wesley’s office.
‘Ingram! It’s Ingram. Ingram has Angel!’
A look of intense anger crossed Wesley face before he looked up from his books. ‘You need to stop this. I need for you to stop this.’
Spike came over, wanted to force him to see it, physically hold him up and pound the knowledge into him. Instead, he crouched down alongside him and said softly, quickly, ‘The night you knocked Ingram out of me, the night you got me back, Wesley, there was a maintenance man outside the lab called Bennie. He was simple—weak brain, ya know? Lived with his old mum. Needed her. That night he became odd. Hurt some people—one a pretty young boy, and one his mum. Killed her. Then he hung around the lab. Studying things—this simple man who had trouble deciding what to wear in the morning. He took things, too. Then one night, he just up and disappeared. No warning, no trace. Disappeared the same night Angel did. No warning. No trace.’
Wesley licked his lips. His hand fluttered out as if seeking something from Spike, then it suddenly became steady. He spun around and grabbed the phone, punching a number. ‘I want everyone in. NOW.’
He slammed it down.
Spike rose. ‘Where are they, Wesley? Where are…?’ He turned away and went to the window, keeping his back to the room.
Giving him a moment, Wesley made some more calls, but then he went over to the smaller figure. He put a hand on his back and said pointedly, ‘Now you grieve?’
Spike took the comment in the ironic English way it was intended and nodded a couple of times. ‘I’m okay.’
‘All right then. You have to think, Spike. You shared a damn body with the monster. Can you remember anything that would help us find them?’
‘The house he was rent…?’
‘I’ve already sent a team there.’
Spike ran a hand over his face wearily. ‘He was new to L.A. Only been here a week before he came to Angel cus he needed protection. His business….’
He jerked his head back. ‘Fuck.’
‘The movies…. The damn fuck movies! He made them here in L.A. That’s why he came here.’
The fake room was filled with madness, Angel’s and Ingram’s, blending, one’s insanity causing madness, that madness spiralling the insanity in the other.
Then Ingram hit a place of no return. He’d exhausted his ingenuity and his body on Angel, and there was nothing left.
There was nothing more of the bleeding broken mass in front of him that he wanted—except the final solution. And that was so appropriate it made him cry.
He released the body from the restraints and pushed the mass until it fell to the ground. He couldn’t reach the heart otherwise.
For many hours he walked around and around the body, studying it. He knelt down and whispered his magics and his power, knowing that Angel could not hear. He picked up the stake and trailed it over the still form, digging it into some of the missing parts, pushing it under skin to watch it wriggle through the demon flesh.
Angel’s inertness angered him. He stood and began to kick again, shouting. Then he knew. He knew the vampire was tricking him, faking this death that was more than death. He knelt down again and whispered, ‘They’re not coming, Angel.’ He giggled. ‘I made sure they’d think you were dead. See? I always told you information was the commodity I valued the most. So, I’ll take that from you, too: hope. Is that what you thought? That they’d come bursting in and rescue you? Angel, Angel, don’t you get it? No one cares! You didn’t care about Spike, and he doesn’t care about you.’
‘Well, I guess that’s where you’re wrong, Ingram.’
Ingram tried to turn and rise at the same time but tripped back over Angel’s body.
Spike came into the light of the room and swallowed, breathing shallowly.
Ingram got to his feet.
Spike blocked everything from his mind except what he had to do. He’d think about all the rest later.
He came up so close to Ingram that he could smell the man’s breath.
And in that moment, when all was insanity, Ingram said, ‘You’ve cut your hair.’
Spike looked into his eyes, reached out and twisted his neck so violently that the head came off in his hands.
He dropped it without a single regret and turned to what he’d come for.
Go to Chapter 13
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