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Reality Check - Chapter 20
It wouldn’t have taken something as sharp as a knife to cut the atmosphere in the car. Spike and Angel sat at furthest ends of the roomy seat with Wesley between them, attempting not to feel like meat in an unpleasant sandwich of animosity. That the vampires were both so beautiful, in clothes that seemed to float on their steel-hard bodies, only made the atmosphere more ironic: looks said love should be in the air, but it was something far more choking than that.
They drew up outside a Wolfram and Hart clone building with a number of other limos depositing a variety of human and demon occupants. Angel squared his shoulders, looked up and said pointedly to Spike, ‘We do what we came to do. Leave other crap in the car.’
Spike pursed his lips and glanced back at the vehicle as it glided away. ‘Too nice to crap in. Think I’ll take mine with me.’ He shouldered past Angel and went into the building on his own.
Wesley coughed, embarrassed. ‘Shall we go forth and conquer? They are only lawyers, after all.’
Angel was still watching Spike’s back. ‘I thought the expression was go forth and multiply.’
Wesley patted his arm. ‘Well, yes, but that hardly seemed tactful, given the circumstances.’
Angel turned to him, frowning. ‘And that means…?’
Backtracking faster than a movie on rewind, Wesley murmured, ‘Well, you being a…. demon…. No children. That’s all I meant.’
‘Is something wrong, Angel? Other than life in general, which always seems to be wrong these….’
‘No. There’s nothing wrong. There’s nothing wrong, and there are no children. See? Life is very simple for me. Let’s go.’ Hearing none of these lies, Wesley followed him into the bowels of the new firm.
Spike was outside the doors to the room where the party was being held, lighting a cigarette. It didn’t appear to be a ploy to ensure he didn’t have to go in alone, but nevertheless, when Wesley and Angel appeared, he latched onto them, and the three went in together to a crowded room full of noise and the smell of power.
Someone Angel vaguely recognised came over to them and shook his hand. When the man turned away to summon them drinks, Wesley murmured, ‘Philip Grately. Left Wolfram and Hart last month to work here.’
Angel’s eyebrows rose. ‘Why?’
‘They pay more and extract less, I believe.’
Angel took a drink and nodded at the man. ‘Where’s the CEO?’ Grately turned and scanned the room then gestured toward a tall, impressive looking man in one corner. He was talking with great animation to someone and seemed unaware of the rest of the assembled guests.
Angel began to move toward the man but stopped so suddenly that Spike, who had been following, walked into him. He seemed embarrassed, but Angel didn’t appear to notice. He only said, ‘Cordelia,’ in a voice that sounded as if summoned from a place of great pain.
Spike followed his gaze to the man and to the women he was talking to. She had her back to them, but to Spike’s eyes, it was undeniably Cordelia. As she was dead, he knew it wasn’t, and turned to Angel to remark on the coincidence but stopped at Angel’s expression. Instead, he said concerned, and hating himself for being so, ‘’S not really her, Luv.’
Angel didn’t appear to hear, or didn’t want to hear. He pushed through the crowd with a dazed, hopeful expression on his face.
Just before he reached the couple, the woman turned. She was Cordelia from the back: hair, figure, height, stance, clothes, shoes, tan, jewellery. From the front, she was someone else, and as if a child fooled by trick box, Angel blinked and shook his head. She smiled and held out a hand. ‘At last. You must be Angel. I’ve heard a lot about you.’ Dismissively, she waved a hand at her admirer, and with a last, longing glance, the distinguished man moved away.
Angel was still staring, so Spike came closer and held out his hand. ‘I’m Spike.’
She repressed a smile, but it still illuminated her face. ‘I rather guessed that.’
Something implied in this—some secret knowledge, some familiarity—animated Angel enough to say annoyed, ‘And you are?’ It was blunt, even for him.
She only laughed delightedly. ‘Yes. Sorry. I’m Charisma Coombs. My father, Christopher, founded this firm and, until today, was its CEO.’
She lifted one eyebrow. ‘He died this morning.’
As bluntly as he had asked her name, Angel said, ‘Did you kill him, or did you use a minion?’
She paled and stepped back. ‘I’m sorry?’
‘Dead men’s shoes. Works for me.’
‘I—.’ She looked genuinely distraught and glanced at Spike as if for support. ‘He had cancer of the throat. He’d been ill for years. I—. Killed? You thought I’d have my own father killed? To run his firm? My God, what they say about you is true.’
Angel faltered and said almost contritely, ‘I’m sorry.’ He ran his fingers through his hair in an agitated manner. ‘Look, we seem to have gotten off on the wrong foot.’ She nodded, still pale. ‘Can I buy you a drink?’
She glanced around the room. ‘Well, as it’s my firm, I think I’d be paying. But, yes, thank you.’
He smiled, a rare engaging smile then offered her an arm. ‘I’d like to meet some of your people.’ As they began to walk away, Angel turned and cast Spike a look over one shoulder. The look clearly said that he had not left their argument in the car either, and that now he had found the perfect revenge.
Spike held Angel’s spiteful look for a moment then turned deliberately away. He didn’t need to be told any more clearly that Angel was not to be the one standing alone in the shadows at this party.
He watched Angel’s act for a while, watched him working the floor, making contacts, being entertaining where he had to be, cold where that was more suited, laughing on cue when his humour was required, like oil, to smooth the joining of the two firms. It was a good act; Spike had to give him that. It seemed that Angel was a good actor in lots of ways.
After an hour, Wesley came to stand alongside him. He was frowning, but Spike did not particularly feel like indulging the human by asking him what was wrong. Wesley supplied the information voluntarily. ‘I can’t find any evidence of demonic partnerships in this firm at all.’
‘You saying they ain’t evil?’
‘Oh, well, I wouldn’t go that far. They are lawyers, after all. And mostly Republicans, as far as I could tell from the conversation. So, evil most definitely.’
If he was attempting a joke, it fell on stony ground. Spike was quite willing to accept that the whole damn firm was evil, especially the CEO who was now his personification of evil. It didn’t help his mood when Wesley said wistfully, ‘She really is very beautiful. They seem to be hitting it off.’
‘Yeah. Big hit all round.’ He dropped his cigarette on the immaculate cream carpet and ground it out with his heel. ‘I’m going.’
‘Going? Why? Where?’
‘Dunno and dunno.’
‘What about me?’
‘Well, you can’t leave me here like a lemon.’
‘Watch me. And, Wesley, that came over as really kinda… gay.’
‘It came over as someone who doesn’t want to be left in a room talking to a bunch of republicans.’
‘You’ll be okay. You’re white and English and vaguely straight. Actually, celibate is probably better than okay.’
‘I’m not celibate. I’m just unlucky.’
Spike smiled and lit a cigarette, not consciously glancing over to check on Angel’s progress around the room, but suddenly noticing he wasn’t there. ‘Fuck.’
‘I’m not that unlucky.’
‘Pillock. Where’d they go?’
Wesley’s eyes lifted to the ceiling thoughtfully, and he completed his tactless comments for the night. ‘I wonder if she has an apartment up there, too.’