is the Fire in Which we Burn
Episode 8- Chapter 6
They worked side by side for the rest of that night, pulling people out from trapped buildings, often Nate's unique gift - to give the last rites - more useful than Angel's preternatural strength or tireless efforts. At last, Angel saw that the man was too exhausted to continue, and he took his arm. 'You need to go home.'
Nate glanced down at Angel's groin, his gaze traveling down his legs. 'I think you do too.'
Angel looked down at the river of blood that, once more darkened his pants and glistened in the light from the flames. As if seeing the damage made it real, he suddenly staggered a little. Glancing up at the sky, making this his excuse, he nodded his agreement. 'Come back to the hotel; it's closer.'
Nate nodded, and when Angel found it hard to move, offered him an arm. Angel looked at him with an unreadable expression, but murmured, 'Thanks,' and leant on him a little as they went very slowly along the street.
Nate glanced at the man alongside him. 'You did good work here, tonight.'
Nate didn't rise to the provocation but said sadly, 'Earthquakes are natural forces of the earth, Angel; God had nothing to do with this.'
Angel laughed bitterly. 'If something good happens, he gets all the credit, but the bad, he's exonerated for. Jeez, must be good being God.'
'The good he did tonight was putting you here - perhaps even making you. I don't know. His ways are a mystery to us - we're like that baby: we try to understand what's happening, but we don't have the big picture to make sense of it all.'
'If we'd not been there, Spike would have gotten to him first.'
'I know. I thought about that. Ironic, in it's own way. Our child, that child.'
Angel stopped and stared at him. 'He's not your childe.'
'Oh, but he is, Angel. I'm his Father.'
'Those are just names. He carries my blood.'
'I'm not trying to deny your relationship to him, but I want you to understand where I am in this.'
Angel stopped once more and seemed to be debating something. He turned and stared at the man, then smiled for the first time since returning with such eagerness to the hotel. 'I've never met anyone who didn't want Spike.'
Nate laughed. 'I think you must have moved in a very small, and can I say odd circle. All I want for Spike - and you now - is that you find your salvation - iIn your own ways. But I'm not so sure I have to worry about you too much.' He grinned at Angel, glanced around once more at the chaos in the street and began to lead the bleeding vampire toward home.
Feeling he had somehow been given a blessing he did not want or believe in from a man he purported to despise that made him feel better than he had for days, Angel trailed silently and thoughtfully behind the striding figure.
It was eerily quiet when they got back, and Angel tried hard not to glance toward the offices, which he knew would be empty, or upstairs, which he knew would have been swiftly deserted after his departure. He started to steel himself once more to the sense of loss: loss of all his former friends.
Nate ignored the slight hesitation and pulled Angel toward the stairs. 'Where is your room?'
'I don't need….'
'And I don't need to argue with you; I'm tired, filthy, and I've sent more people to God's mercy tonight than in my whole time as a priest. So, don't piss me off now!'
Angel shut up and allowed the man to help him to his room. He eased onto the bed and began to take off the filthy, temporary bandages, wincing at the continuing blood-flow.
'What do you feed on?'
Angel looked up as shocked as if the priest had asked him where he kept his porn stash. 'I don't….'
Nate only smiled serenely at the childish tone of the response and spun on his heel to fetch the food.
When he returned, Angel was lying on his back, an arm thrown over his face. He held a large pile of towels to his belly, which were slowly turning red. Silently, Nate handed over the cold bags and sat alongside the vampire. Angel didn't comment on the lack of heating, but tore them open one by one and, watching the priest for any sign of disgust, drank them down.
Nate frowned, and Angel was about to jump gleefully down his throat (with an angry comment about something that he hoped would occur to him when he began to shout) when the priest said softly, 'You know, some religions practice separating people from their souls - for nefarious reason, admittedly.'
Angel, caught wrong-footed, licked his lips and stayed silent.
'That's if you can call voodoo a religion. I suppose we have to.'
'Yeah, they separate girls from their souls - supposedly - and then make them sell their bodies until they can pay back the Madame that holds them.'
Angel sighed. 'Nice. Sometimes, I'm glad I'm a vampire.'
'My point being that of course the girls don't actually lose their souls, but they believe they have. It seems almost immaterial where the truth lies - the outcome is the same for them.'
'Spike's not imagining he's soulless. Believe me. I've been there, done that.'
Nate looked intrigued. 'You've lost your soul too?'
Angel nodded and tore into another bag.
'What saved you?'
Angel was going to reply 'A spell' but changed it at the last minute to, 'Love. Someone loved me enough to bring me back.'
Nate smiled and nodded. 'Pay it forward....'
Angel suddenly chuckled. 'Yeah. I guess. Spike'll owe someone next.'
Nate's smiled widened. 'You can tell him - he'll love that. Not.'
They suddenly realized they were chuckling together, sitting on Angel's bed while Angel fed, without embarrassment. It was a startling moment for both of them, and suddenly, Angel laid his hand on the man's arm. 'Thanks. For… this. I was feeling pretty… alone.'
Nate shook his head. 'I owed you.'
Angel was about to reply when there was a commotion outside. Nate stood up defensively, moving between the injured vampire and the door. Suddenly, Cordelia burst in, swinging an axe.
'Hey! He's here! Who are you?'
Gunn and Fred skidded in with swords and crosses. 'Boss!' 'Angel?'
More slowly, and with no weapons, Sam and Jordan eased in behind the others. Sam suddenly exclaimed, 'You! Don't tell me you've made Angel straight now!'
This rather silenced the room until Angel gave a small, embarrassed cough. 'What are you all…?'
As usual, Cordelia didn't wait for him to finish and came over to the bed. 'What's happening, Angel? Wesley told us to stay away - no explanation. But then I called to see if the earthquake had got him, and he said Spike had lost his soul and you might as well have!' She finished breathless and looked at him pointedly.
Angel sighed. 'I'm okay, but he's right about Spike. Why are you all here?'
Fred came hesitantly forward, her sword almost heavier than her. 'Because you'll need us, Angel! We're all here for you…. You should have told us! Wesley should have! We'd never have stayed away.'
Gunn nodded and put an arm over her shoulders.
Angel looked around the room and then lay back down and put his arm over his face once more.
Cordelia ushered everyone out and shut the door softly. She looked around the group, her eyes lingering on Nate briefly. 'You've got some talking to do. Gunn - you're on guard here. Fred - you stag Gunn. You two….' She seemed to find it difficult to think what Sam and Jordan could so, and they grinned at her. 'Go off and look pretty somewhere.'
Nate glanced toward the door. 'He needs to sleep - but not for long, or the trail will go cold.'
'You've seen Spike?'
Nate nodded sadly. 'I need coffee first, then storytelling.' He went down the stairs with Cordelia while Gunn fetched a chair and settled himself like an implacable stalwart against all-comers.
Angel woke with the sensation that someone was in the room with him. He turned, holding his belly and saw Jordan standing just inside the door. Gunn peered over his shoulder and said in an annoyed voice, 'Sorry, Man.'
Angel nodded for the demon to come in, and with a pointed look at Gunn, Jordan shut the door firmly behind him. He came over and sat on the edge of Angel's bed and looked at him for some time. Then in a low, flat voice, he said, 'I knew.'
Angel looked into the fathomless dark eyes. 'He tried so hard to keep up the illusion. Does Sam know?'
Jordan shook his head. 'Sam sees Spike with different organs than the rest of us.'
Angel couldn't help a smile, and it relaxed the tension between them.
He leant back against his pillow and closed his eyes for a moment. When he opened them, he hissed with anger. 'Turn back!'
Jordan shook his head and said carefully. 'Look at me, Angel. Look on the face you know so well. Study the cheekbones, examine my eyes, draw your gaze over my blond hair. It's perfect, isn't it? A perfect likeness - I've watched him closely enough these last few months to get it right.'
'Turn back!' Angel's voice rose uncontrollably, and he clenched his jaw as if to stop maddeningly uncontrollable emotions.
'Why not just have me instead, Angel? I'm him. Exactly.' He paused for a moment and then added very distinctly, 'Except, I'm not, am I? I'm his body, but I'm not him. Don't listen to what anyone else says, Angel; you have to get him back. You have to persevere until the end - whatever it takes - to get him back. The body is nothing. You know that, and I know that. We want what lies inside. We want the real Spike.'
Suddenly, they heard a sound in the room and turned to see Sam sliding quietly through the door. He grinned and nodded back out to the hallway making a gesture that led Angel to think that Gunn was either peeing or wanking. He came over to them and looked down at the blond figure. With a pout, he said softly to Angel, 'I've promised God that if he gets Spike back for me, I'll stop praying that you turn straight.'
Jordan snorted; Angel didn't seem to know whether to be outraged or amused.
Eventually, he said slowly, 'I should have gotten to know you two better.'
Sam sat on the bed and poked him in the arm. 'Plenty of time for that when we get lover-boy back.'
Angel looked between them and suddenly, totally uncharacteristically, he pulled them into his arms. He felt the demon change as he held him, the emotion overwhelming his ability to stay in form.
'Oh, joyous day! A threesome!'
They snapped apart, and Angel grunted with fury. Before he could speak, Gunn burst through the door and came toward the figure.
Lilah turned slowly to him and smiled. 'Touch me, and Angel will be very, very sorry.'
Angel held out his hand to stop Gunn and swung his legs painfully off the bed.
'What do you want?'
Lilah leaned forward slightly, amused. 'It's not what I want, Angel; it's what you want.'
'I want you to fuck off and die, but you just don't seem to take the hint.'
She pouted as if this really upset her then smiled again. 'What can I say? I bounce. Now, get rid of the little fuck-toys, and we'll talk.'
'We've got nothing to….' Angel trailed off as she produced something from her pocket. He stared at the glowing glass jar.
She frowned. 'Come on; ask me what it is. You're no fun at all!'
Angel clenched his teeth but said calmly, 'What is it?'
Angel felt as if he'd woken in one reality where everything was bleak and hopeless and then jumped to another where this salvation was being offered. Then he shook himself and replied, 'You're lying.'
She shrugged her shoulders. 'I'm not actually. For once. It is his soul. Father Jon's been gathering them for us for years - and priests before that, going back such a long way. Jeez, I hate priests.'
Angel wrapped a sheet around his waist and stood up. 'Give it to me.'
She pouted. 'But it's so pretty.'
Suddenly, he had the glass jar, and she was standing empty handed and slightly ruffled. She folded her arms and gave him a look. 'So, what are you going to do with it? Do you break the glass - or would that destroy it? Is there a secret opening - or would searching for it destroy it too? Ohhh, it's so exciting! Shall we play pass-the-parcel again, or do you want to fucking wise up and listen to me?'
Angel held the swirling container in his hands as though it were a tiny baby. He felt a tap on his arm and looked at Jordan. 'Give it to me, Angel. You need to talk to her. I'll look after it. Trust me.'
Angel could not believe he was being asked to hand it over, but he looked deep into the demon's eyes and then, with a nod, gave it to him. Jordan sat down next to Sam and gave him a small look of determined hope.
Angel went to the chair and pulled on some pants under the sheet then cast it to one side. She whistled at the huge wound across his belly. 'God, but a scarred man is so sexy.'
'Just talk, Lilah. How do I replace the soul?'
She kept his gaze and said evenly. 'Just us.'
Angel nodded. 'Everyone out.'
Walking as if he were holding nitro-glycerin, Jordan went toward the door. Gunn snatched it open for him, and the three made a careful exit.
Angel looked at Lilah. 'Just us.'
Lilah smiled. 'Good. Now, there's a key - to open the container and replace the soul. I'll give you the key in return for a promise.'
'Maybe I'll torture you and get it that way. More fun.'
'The key is a word, Angel, on a taped message. Only my voice - my normal, happy, calm, unmolested voice - will trigger the message.'
'What do you want?'
She smiled and made herself comfortable on the edge of the bed. 'Now we deal.'
Jordan looked at Sam and said uncertainly, 'Should we hide it from her?'
'I don't think it's as simple as that, J. There must be something else that makes this useful, and if she won't give it up….' He shrugged.
'Should I put it down?'
Gunn suddenly said nervously, 'Aftershocks?'
Jordan shivered and nodded. After a moment, he added, 'What if I need to pee?'
Sam chuckled. 'I'll hold it for you.'
'Angel entrusted it to me!'
Sam raised an eyebrow. 'What makes you think I was talking about the soul?'
Jordan grinned at him and flicked his tongue out slightly. He peered into the glass. 'Hey… Lover… can you hear me? You've gotta come back, cus we've some real fun things we wanna do with you.'
Gunn made a small noise, and Sam said incredulously, 'Are you blushing?'
Gunn started to walk away, felt some very prurient stares at his behind, and trotted faster until he was out of sight. They grinned at each other and sat down comfortably against the wall, the precious container cocooned softly in Jordan's lap.
Angel looked at the women incredulously and shook his head. 'No.'
She tipped her head on one side curiously. 'I always wondered just how much you loved him. Now I know: not that much. He always wondered too - did you know that? He talked a lot about you, but there was always a hint of uncertainty - as if he didn't trust you. He was very perceptive.'
'You can't blackmail me into it, and you won't bully me into it either. I said no.'
'Angel. It's nothing. A tiny favour some time in the future.'
'One word. That's all you need. One word, and he'll be yours again. Think of the good he'll do. Think of what you can do together.' She looked down coyly. 'I wish I were a man, then I'd know what it would be like to take him. I'd enjoy that. Is he warm inside? Do you slide or do you have to push…?'
The hand cut off her air. The body pinned her to the wall. She was lifted off her feet, but her eyes showed no fear. She knew she held all the cards. She just waited. He put his face close to hers and stared into her eyes. 'How do you know I won't renege on the deal when the time comes?'
Knowing capitulation when she heard it, she just flicked her eyes down to the hold preventing her speaking, and reluctantly, Angel lowered her to the ground. She rubbed her neck and then fished in a pocket, producing a piece of paper. The paper glowed slightly in the darkened room.
She spread it out on the small nightstand. 'Friends in high places are always useful for drawing up unbreakable contracts. You sign, you pay - or we decide your forfeit.'
Angel walked away to the window and stood with his back to the woman. She knew her job and just waited patiently. The clients' desperate need always closed more deals than her words ever could.
Eventually, Angel came back and said curtly, 'Pen?'
She fished in her pocket and produced a knife. 'I kinda thought you'd have one, but this is an old favourite; what can I say?'
She drew it over his palm until the pale skin welled red. He dipped a finger in the sticky fluid and wrote a large A on the paper. She was about to take it up, when he grabbed her wrist, cut into it and smeared her blood over his. 'I want a proper contract.'
She nodded at the done deal and then took a small jar from her pocket. She shook some dust over the paper as if to dry the signatures, and suddenly, it curled up, glowed even more forcibly and disappeared. She nodded contented. 'There - signed, sealed, and filed.'
She nodded and produced another object from her pocket. Angel stared at the cross.
She grinned. 'Hey! I'm evil; sue me. And I really didn't want you torturing me - not in that way, anyway! It's not a word - this is the key. It's made with a tiny splinter from the true cross - or so I've been told. Sounds bullshit to me. Anyway, plunge it into Spike's heart as you break the glass, and his soul will shoot back into his body. Apparently.'
'This is a joke, right?'
'Not a very good one then, is it?'
'You seriously expect me to plunge a cross-stake into Spike on your word that this fucking crap will work?'
'No, I expect you to fulfill the promise you've made to me when the time comes, and you won't do that if I fuck this up. I'm telling you the truth. I've seen it done on some of the priest's other victims - of course, they weren't allergic to wood.'
Angel picked his sheet up off the floor and wound it around his palm, taking the cross she held out. It immediately hissed, and smoke rose even through the material. He flinched and dropped it. She stared down in wonder. 'Well, what d'y'know? Might be real after all.'
Angel went to the closet and pulled on a leather glove. Even with that, it sizzled in his palm, making him drop it once more. He bent and shoved it quickly in his pocket, but it burnt him there, and he had to flick it out again.
She shrugged. 'You'll work it out. I've gotta go. So much earthquake damage… so many desperate people. Isn't it just great!'
She stood and gave him a look. 'Remember your promise. And… tell Spike… tell him….' She bit her lip and went swiftly to the door.
Angel stared down at the instrument of Spike's salvation that he could not hold and wondered whether he should have made such a deal with the devil.
Go to Chapter 7