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Time is the Fire in Which we Burn

Episode 8- Chapter 7

Jordan jerked up his head as Angel strode out of the bedroom. He stared for a moment then nudged Sam awake, who then caught the retreating leather-clad backside and flowing leather coat. They looked at each other, grinned, and rose to follow him. Jordan glanced down at the precious object he cradled in his hands and felt a warm glow spread through his body at the thought that Angel had not even glanced in his direction to see if it was safe.

They found Angel in his office, perched on the desk, the humans spread around in chairs, facing him. They hesitated for just a moment then realized that two chairs had been put for them too. Silently, they slid into place and felt as if they ought to take notes.

Angel looked at each one of them in turn and then twisted around and held out a book. They all looked at him expectantly, and he tilted it down slightly so they could see the cross lying on it. 'I've been given Spike's soul back.'

He hushed cries of surprise from the girls, gave Nate a look to prevent him rising, and nodded toward Jordan. Feeling totally self-conscious and wishing he had picked a more impressive body for such an important moment, the demon held out the glowing orb reverently.

Once more, Angel silenced pleasure and confusion. 'There's a key. This.' He indicated the cross.

Fred frowned. 'In what sense of key, Angel?'

Angel pouted at it. 'It will open Spike up to receive his soul.'

Sam looked to see if Fred was going to comment on this and, when she stayed silent, said softly, 'That sounds… dangerous? For a vampire, I mean? Cross…?' He trailed off, feeling that somehow the sucking of eggs was being done.

Angel did not belittle his concern and nodded. 'Yeah. More than that though: I have to stake him with it.'

He didn't even attempt to silence the noise that followed that declaration, but looked down at his shoes as they voiced their fears.

When everyone fell silent, he reached behind him once more and replaced his leather glove. Looking at them in turn, he picked up the cross. It burnt viciously, just as before, and he dropped it back onto the book with a wince of pain.

No one made a sound after that.

Angel pouted, staring at the cross. Suddenly, he got up and swiftly crossed the gap to the humans. He held the cross out. 'I need you to do this for me. I'll smash the orb; you will have to carry this. We'll restore his soul together.'

Wonderingly, Nate took the cross in his hand. Instinctively, he placed it to his lips and kissed it lightly. Angel waited until he looked at him once more. 'It has a splinter from the true cross. Guard it well.'

Nate dropped the cross into his lap as if it were too precious for someone like him to hold, and he looked back at Angel to see if any mockery lay beneath the calm exterior. Angel just smiled and shrugged. 'I was a Catholic once, Priest. Old reverence dies hard.'

Nate nodded. 'Together then.'

Angel perched back on his desk and suddenly clapped his hands to startle everyone back to attention. If he paled slightly as Jordan jumped and fumbled with the orb, he had the grace not to actually make a move to catch it.

With a sideward glance, just reassure himself, he said, 'First thing is to find him. Gunn - you and Fred stake out his apartment. He might feel confident enough to go back there. Cordelia - take the shops he likes to visit: places you've been with him. Wes….' He halted and everyone looked at feet or out of the window - anywhere but at Angel's pain-filled face.

Suddenly, Sam said cheerfully, 'Hey! J, let's check out Babel!'

Jordan laughed. 'Yeah. The backroom particularly.'

It relieved the tension, and Angel gave a small flash of a smile in gratitude to the human. 'I want you all to be very careful. This is not the Spike you knew. Nate and I saw him, and he's been feeding - heavily. Do not approach him. Do not let him engage you in conversation. He could be at your throat before you….'

There was a scream as Angel laid his fangs to Fred's throat. He had moved so quickly that no one in the room had seen him leave the desk or cross the space. He stood and looked pointedly at each of them once more. 'Do I make my point?'

Six heads nodded in unison, and Angel returned to his seat. 'Take cell phones. Call me if….'

'It's a pity we don't know more about his habits in the past….' Cordy frowned and added, 'I mean, Angel and I knew him. We should see a pattern…. What? Angel? What?'

Angel had suddenly leapt to standing. He pointed at Nate. 'My car now.' He turned to Gunn. 'You're in charge. Split up as I said.'

He went to Jordan and held out his hands. Mutely, Jordan handed his burden over. Angel looked at them all one more time then said distinctly, 'I'll be in Sunnydale.'

He grabbed Nate's arm and virtually dragged him toward the basement.

'Where's Sunnydale? I mean, what's in Sunnydale?'

'Three nil.' On that cryptic note, Angel tested the priest's running powers one more time.

When they were safely in the car and speeding as fast as the downtown traffic allowed, Angel pulled out his cell phone and punched in a number. He let it ring for a moment then cursed and punched another number. With another curse, he shouted, 'Fucking hang up, Buffy!'

Nate kept silent, but gave him a pointed look, and Angel said through gritted teeth, 'Spike had an obsession about Slayers.' He saw the priest's blank expression and sighed. 'I don't have time to explain, but he's killed two vampire slayers, and he went to Sunnydale originally to kill a third - the current one. That's where he'll be now. I know him. He never gives up.'

'And you think this… vampire slayer… will… slay him…?'

'NO! She won't be prepared for HIM! She'll think he's still….' He frowned deeply. 'They were lovers. She'll won't have her guard up.'

He tried the numbers again and stared at the phone incredulously. 'How long can one conversation take, Buffy? Hello. It's me. How are you? Goodbye. Hang up!' He tried the cellphone number once more, and when that appeared to be turned off, he flung his phone petulantly into the rear seat.

Nate looked thoughtfully down to the cross in his lap. 'We should work out a plan.'

Angel nodded. 'It's no point you hiding; he'll sense you there. Just stay still and look inconspicuous. He'll come at me. When I've got him subdued, you… you… do what you have to do. At the same time, I'll smash the orb.'

'Do you trust Lilah?'


'You must know her better than I do from my short acquaintance with her.'

'She needs for this to work too.'

'Oh.' Nate looked carefully at Angel and didn't probe further. After a moment, he said hesitantly, 'I've not much experience of making plans of this sort… but won't Spike think it's odd I'm there?'


'Well… why would I be along unless I had some vital role? He's anything but stupid. He won't ignore me; he'll go for me.'

Angel glanced over, and Nate looked away, afraid he'd angered the vampire, but he felt a hand on his thigh. 'Yeah, I'd not thought of it that way. Good point. Okay, we need a kind of double-bluff.'

'I was thinking of my original plan.' He fondled the cross lovingly. 'What if I start to pray - a prayer for the soul? He might think that's what I'm there to do - replace his soul by the power of prayer. I always pray with a cross - he knows that. It won't threaten him, and he'll ignore me. He goes for you; you subdue him and… I… do it, and… he's ours again.'

Angel let out a small breath. 'This is going to work.'

Nate nodded, trying to be confident, but after a moment, he said, biting his lip, 'So, Angel, how do I actually… do it? I mean, does it have to be somewhere particular?'

Angel looked at him incredulously. 'IN THE HEART!' He lowered his voice. 'Okay. Let's go over the plan one more time - perhaps with some more detail… like how to stake a vampire!'

Nate pouted. 'It wasn't covered in the Seminary. Sorry.'

Suddenly, Angel laughed and shook his head. 'I'd volunteer myself for some practice, but what can I say?'

Nate laughed too, and they glanced at each other, pleased.

Angel gave his concentration to the road for a while. Nate unfolded his long legs and began to rummage in the glove box. He produced a CD, waved it at Angel for permission and pushed it in. As the soft notes started, Angel chuckled. 'I've not played that one for a while. Spike hates it. I told him it represented his soul.'

Nate smiled. 'It's one of my favourites. It makes me think of cinnamon - but then I had an unusual introduction to heaven.'

Suddenly, Angel said, without catching his eye, 'Are we talking?' Nate just chuckled, so Angel added softly, 'Why the sudden conversion? A few days ago you'd have had me burnt at some stake for being a fornicator.'

Nate looked surprised. 'I still don't approve of what you do, Angel. Perhaps even more so now I've seen what else you are capable of - the great goodness. Your passions distract you from your mission, dilute your abilities. Why do you think I embrace celibacy? It frees me to be the best man - the best priest - that I can. What if I were like you? I'd be obsessed, needy, and I'd….' He stopped when he saw Angel's expression darken and laid a hand briefly over the clenched fist on the wheel. 'I don't approve of what you do, but I do approve of you, Angel - for what's that worth to you. I'm finding that paradox very hard to reconcile - but I am trying.'

Once more, Angel felt as if he'd been given a blessing and tried to remember that not only did not believe in them from priests, but that he was considerably older and wiser than the very young man sitting alongside him. It wasn't easy to do either, and he deliberately re-clenched his fist on the wheel when he saw he'd relaxed it for a moment.

Nate patted him on the thigh with a chuckle. 'How much further?'

Angel didn't even hesitate. 'Seventy-three miles.'

Nate looked at him. 'You know Sunnydale, too?'

Angel clenched his jaw. 'I used to live there.'

Nate didn't comment and turned his head to stare out of the window for a while. The CD ended and began again, and then he said very carefully, 'Will you forgive Wesley?'

Deep in the thoughts that their last exchange had sparked, Angel started and said with a laugh, 'That's a strange way for a priest to put it! Shouldn't you give me a heartfelt homily on the importance of forgiveness?'

'I don't think I need to tell you anything about forgiveness. I suspect you probably know more about its importance than I ever will. I have no doubt that in the long run what he did will prove to be for the best, but I have to say that his methods were… dubious.'

Angel inspected a flawless nail for a while then said softly, 'I hurt him - badly. He wanted to hurt me back. He knew he could do it through Spike.'

'Dear God. So, you need to forgive each other.'

Angel gave him a look.

Nate tipped his neck back and appeared deep in thought. 'Whether Spike will ever forgive him is another matter.'

Angel caught his gaze once more and blinked slowly. 'I know.'

'Everything he's done since losing his soul could be….'

'Wesley's fault?'

'Spike might see it that way, when the pain starts.'

Angel clenched his jaw and said pointedly, 'He forgave you.'

Nate shrugged. 'I didn't get him to kill anyone.'

Angel refrained from pointing out that death came in many forms, reached around to the back seat, and tried the numbers once more.

Spike lounged against a very familiar tomb, smoking. He had a dilemma, and it had plagued him since his plan had occurred to him: how long should he keep the Slayer alive before he drank her blood right down to the last tiny drop. It was a serious problem, and he'd been turning it over in his mind as he'd made his very bloody way towards Sunndydale. Too long, and she might find a way to escape - he didn't underestimate her for a moment. Not long enough, and he wouldn't have time to show her the true meaning of degradation. For he made no attempt to hide his motives from himself: this wasn't about taking a Slayer to confirm his own power. This was about degradation - hers. He wanted to do the things she'd baulked at before, drag her down until there was nothing pretty or innocent or sweet about her, until she crawled in her own filth, ate it, screamed and spat her terror and her pain.

He wriggled slightly as he thought through all the things he wanted to enjoy with her. Dilemma solved: he'd keep her alive for a very, very long time. Time to go. He'd arranged to meet her soon, and he wanted to be ready. She'd sounded pleased to hear from him. She'd sounded happy. She'd sounded full of goodness. She sounded like memories that weakened him, and he wanted it to end.

He pushed open the door of his old home and felt a strange sense of déjà vu wash over him as he entered. Everything that had happened to him since he'd gotten the chip had led inexorably to this moment: it had given him power over the humans, and now he could kill them all.

He jogged down to the lower levels, chuckling at the mess and went down the tunnels to his toys. They were still hanging there in the faint light; he almost fancied he could smell the Slayer as she hung, unconscious, imagine he could hear Drusilla as she'd keened her tuneless lament to his dead love. He whirled around at soft footfall of ghosts, shook himself sternly and tested the restraints.

There was no escape for her.

He heard the door open above and grinned, fading slightly into the shadows by the wall. He clenched and unclenched his fist, trying to relieve the nervous tension, and then he smelt him.

He raised his head in furious dismay and cried out softly. Swiftly grabbing his saber, he stood braced and ready as Angel came down the tunnel.

Spike took in the two figures, could hardly compute why the priest was there, before he watched him fall to his knees, holding a cross out theatrically in front of him.

Incredulous, Spike tipped his head back and laughed. He felt better now. Sure, sensing Angel had been a shock, but this was going to be fun. He had no doubt he could take Angel - it was obvious: he didn't care about killing Angel, but Angel still loved him and wouldn't hurt him. No contest. He'd take Angel first, and then he'd have the ripe, succulent human all to himself. He pouted, thinking about missing his fun with Buffy but grinned when he pictured Nate hanging equally beautifully in the manacles. He'd have to do something about that chastity thing though before he killed him. Only Christian really….

Spike waited with an expectant, mischievous smirk on his face as he watched the man pray. He glanced down and patted his body, shaking his head. ''S not working!'

Nate didn't even falter, only held the cross higher and firmer, and continued to pray.

Spike sighed and turned his attention to Angel. 'Hello, Lover.'

'Hello, Spike.'

'Long time no see.'

'A few hours, but I'll grant you that it probably seems longer to you.'

'Yeah, been VERY busy, if you know what I mean.'

'I can guess.'

'So, this is it, isn't it? This is you and me, and we finally get to prove which one of us is better. And Angel! You've not even come prepared!'

Angel just smiled, reached up behind his back and, in an uncanny mirror of someone he knew Spike would recognize, drew a sword out from behind his back.

Spike nodded in intrigued amusement. 'Okay, Immortal. Let's get this on.' He lunged and caught Angel with a sharp cut to his sword hand. The blood began to flow, making the hold slippery, so as he backed away, Angel shrugged and tossed his weapon to the other hand.

The smell of the blood began to work on Spike. He licked his lips, and his eyes dilated. 'Sire's blood. Better than slayer's after all.'

Angel shifted around Nate and watched carefully as Spike didn't even cast him a second look. With a small blink of determination, Angel suddenly went on the offensive. He charged Spike and crashed him into the wall, pinning the saber between them, crushing the blade against the slim body. They were eye to eye, and Angel looked deeply into the blue depths. Their profound emptiness made him hiss slightly, and although he had not come there with the intent to kill or cure, he knew now that there was only one way Spike would leave the crypt: souled.

Spike watched these thoughts flicker through Angel's mind, and he lowered his eyelids seductively, 'Come on, Baby. We can still be friends. We can still fuck, ya know? Little demon visits in the night? You'd like that. I'm the only one who knows how little of you is Angel and how much is actually Angelus.' Without lifting his head, he looked up at Angel, from under the lowered lid.

Angel tipped his head on one side and said evenly, 'I've seen Jordan do a better impression of you than that. Don't bother, Spike. You're just a carcass without the person I want inside. He'll have that body, or neither of you will.' He brought up his knee and slammed it into Spike's balls.

Spike's eyes widened; he paled and sank to his knees. Angel held his head and then swung kidded him to the floor. He turned to Nate and nodded. Nate rose from his knees and came hesitantly forward.

Angel put a hand out and grasped the priest's empty one. Nate felt a strange, dark strength course through him from the vampire's touch, but he didn't recoil from it. He nodded and took a firmer hold on the cross and, gripping Angel's hand, lifted his arm to plunge it into the prone form.

Angel saw the saber emerge from Nate's back first, which only proved to him how fast Spike had moved. Hiding his sword beneath him, the groaning demon had rolled over and thrust the point straight through the man's belly. All three of them were suspended in time for just a moment until Nate began to fall.

Angel cried out, and the eerie sound encapsulated his anguish and fury. Spike grinned and began to twist the sword in the priest's guts, laughing gleefully as long, pink coils began to unfurl from their protective casing.

Angel bellowed once more, trying to reach for the cross, even though he knew it was hopeless - that he could not hold it firmly enough to plunge it into Spike - when he felt the hand in his strengthen. 'Now.' The word was so soft and pain-filled that he heard it more as a thought in his head than a word spoken by the dying man, but nevertheless, he took the orb from his pocket and, looking at the pale, waxy face, dashed it with all his strength into the wall.

Angel never knew where the priest got his final power from, perhaps it was just the weight of his body as it fell, but he drove the stake into Spike with a strength that belied the ocean of blood flowing from his wound. The orb broke. With a look of utter shock, Spike looked down at the cross that staked his heart, giggled, and then tipped his head back, his eyes wide, their blue depths opening as if a great darkness had come upon him.

Suddenly, he shivered and cupped his hands over Nate's, pulling the cross out of his heart. He shifted imperceptibly so that the dying man no longer pinned him down, but was, instead, cradled in his lap.

Angel dropped to his knees beside them both and put a tentative hand on Spike's arm. Spike looked at him, and Angel could not rightly say whether they had been successful or not. The soul was back, but he hoped to see other measures of success as well.

Spike bent his head to the human. Nate's eyes were incredibly bright, only emphasized by the extreme paleness of his face. Angel stripped off his coat and balled it up, pressing it to the wound, trying to capture the slippery intestines that spilled around the edges and put them back, as if by this repetitive task, he could make the man heal.

Nate moved his finger a tiny bit, and ignoring the burning, Angel placed the cross into his hand. Spike watched the small gesture and put a blood-coated hand to his eyes.

'Hey…. Spike? Why so sad?' Spike looked down at the man, his face creased with confusion. Nate smiled wanly. 'Can't you smell it?'

Spike looked around wildly as if trying to make sense of the question, but Nate shifted his hand to draw his attention back. 'Baking - I'm going to be with her now. You were my angel after all, and you've sent me to her. Shhh, don't cry…. I'll still be here for you - always. Speak to me in your old familiar way, and I will hear you….' He laughed lowly, and the small shaking destroyed Angel's efforts to keep his body the right way out. 'You might just have to listen a little harder to hear my replies. Spike…? Spike, hush and listen…. Take care of Angel. He's very precious.' He arched back and made a distressing sound of pain but then smiled serenely. 'Oh, cinnamon - my favourite.'

They both knew the moment when death came - they'd precipitated it enough times.

Angel let go the gaping wound and spread his coat over the silent figure to cover what spilled from him.

Spike sat back on his heels then took off his coat and bundled it under Nate's head to pillow it from the cold ground.

Angel wiped one bloodied hand across his eyes, leaving a streak of red, like a warrior's mark on his face.

Spike looked up at the gesture and saw for the first time that Angel had been crying too.

Angel looked back at him, and for the first time in his life, he did not have the courage to speak first. This death was not something he had bargained on.

Rather than face the morass of emotions that swirled between them, Angel busied himself in practicalities. He looked down at the body. 'I'll lie him in the open and call nine one one. They'll find him.'

Spike seemed incapable of action, so making sure the coat was tightly wrapped around the body, Angel swept the priest into his arms and ascended the steps. He didn't turn around; again, cowardice making him unable to check to see if Spike followed.

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