Part Three of Ten
"Home is the place where, when you have to go there,
They have to take you in."
"I should have called it
Something you somehow haven't to deserve."
Robert Frost, The Death of the Hired Man, 1915
The Hyperion had barely changed in the thirty years since he'd last visited it, that time Buffy dragged him there to rub Angel's nose in her perverse new undead relationship, back when all they did was fuck twenty-two/seven, with an hour a day out for killing things and another for her to cry and wish she was still dead. He could've almost felt sorry for the big poof that time, except he didn't have it in him. In the years since, he'd signed Buffy's goddamned Christmas cards to him, even spoken to him on the phone a time or two when there was some mystical crisis on, but that was all. Their rapprochement was almost purely theoretical, fostered by distance.
Now he'd find out what it was good for.
A young woman he'd never seen before appeared behind the desk. "Welcome to Angel Investigations. How may I help you?"
"Here to see Angel. Better fetch him out pronto."
"And you are"
The voice came from above. Which always seemed to be the case, no matter where Angel was physically. Spike had to crane his neck to see him up on the balcony. He gazed impassively down, hands in pockets.
Spike's calmthe calm he'd held in place for a day, for the sake of getting organized and getting here, for Jemima's sake in the close quarters of the slayer's private planegave way to molten rage. None of this would be happening if not for goddamned Angelushe'd put it all in train, he'd made themdamned themall. Spike fanged out and snarled.
Two men appeared suddenly in opposite doorways, crossbows drawn.
"Stand down, guys, it's all right." Angel said. He began to descend. "What's in the duffle bag?
"My son." He let the bag drop from his shoulder to the floor with a dull thud. Bent and yanked open the top. Johnny, still in his mystical stasis, stared up unblinking, game-faced.
Angel didn't even raise an eyebrow. "How did it happen?"
"How do you bloody think it happened? Family." He spat the last word. Angel paused for a moment on the stairs, looking.
"Drusilla?" Angel strode towards them.
"Yeah, Dru-bloody-silla! She's yours an' what've you done about her! What've you been doin' all these bloody fucking decades, if not riddin' this sorry world of the likes of her! Why'd you leave her out there! ShesheChrist look at what she did to him!"
"This isn't my fault."
"'Course it's your fuckin' fault! You're her sire! You're the cause of this whole miserable cocked up She killed our son!"
"Course she's all you fuckin' care about. Nepal. 'Cept last word I could get, she's off fightin' in some other dimension. Not reachable. What the fuck am I gonna tell her when she gets back? Boy just turned twenty-one, an' he's the apple of her eye."
Angel knelt, regarding Johnny with grave unreadable attention. "Why did you bring him here? To rub my face in this?"
"You're gonna help him! You're the one's got an in with the Powers, knows who the Fixers are. Gonna do whatever it takes to get this undone."
Angel rose slowly. Spike didn't think he'd ever seen an expression of pity on the old bugger's face before, but he saw it now. Somehow it only made him angrier. He threw himself at Angel, fists windmilling, and found himself knocked back with a searing pain in the thigh. The arrow quivered as he stared at it.
Angel turned on his associates. "I said you could stand down. In factgive us some privacy."
"You bloody fucking stupid Mick bastard" Spike pulled the arrow out, and launched himself at Angel again.
He didn't know how long the punch-up lasteda long time. They were too well-matched, or maybe that was a good thing, he didn't know. He didn't know anything anymore. But when he couldn't lift his arm to get in another blow, when he could barely lift his heavy head up from where he was splayed on the marble floor of the hotel lobby, his cheek stuck there with blood, but saw through one rapidly swelling eye that a yard off Angel was much the same, he felt
well, not better. Didn't think he'd ever feel "better" again, whatever that was. Grief and anger had taken up residence in him the way the demon had when he was turned, never to be untwined, and become part of his sinews, his marrow, his mind.
The cold stone seemed to absorb him where he lay, and there was no more fight in him.
The gentle touch in his hair, fingers stroking the disordered curls, and the nearby smell of warmed blood startled him back to awareness. He didn't want her to see him this way, his face beaten and his spirit beatennot when it wasn't at her hand.
His lips were dry and cracked when he whispered, "Buffydon't ."
"It's not Buffy. Don't start hallucinating on me. Sit up. Drink this. You're practically empty, Spike."
He'd never seen Angelus look pity, and he'd never been touched by him like this either. He was on a bed in a room upstairs; Angel's hands were easy and firm, propping him up, handing him the hot mug.
Angel sat beside him, an arm around his shoulders, and held the cup to his mouth.
The first taste revealed it to be human, nearly fresh. He swallowed it down. The warmth suffused him. For a moment he sat still, silent, battening on it. Nothing was as good, nothing, as a warm live feed. He only ever fed anymore from her, but not for a long while, all her goodness had been withdrawn a long while.
Then he remembered everything, and the grief resurged. It was all out of control, endless failure and wrong. He began to cry. Shame spasmed through him like physical pain, to do this in front of Angel, but the tears came from a cistern inside him he could not stem.
Angel pulled him in with the other arm, tight against his broad solid body.
"I know what it is," Angel murmured. "My son, too lost. Years ago now, and I still think about him every single day. How much I love him. Spike, I'm sorry."
These words unlocked some further cavern of anguish; Spike cried out, struggled. Angel held him. After a while he realized he was only struggling in order to feel his grandsire's strength, the raw comfort of his immoveable stolidity. His encircling arms were warm; he must've just fed as well. Spike pressed his face into Angel's neck and wept.
"That's it. Get it all out."
"It was my fault this happened! I should've gone after her when they were little, I should've made sure oh God. Jesus Fucking Christ, it's my fault he's killed." The breath sawed in his throat as he spoke. "Where is he?"
"He's secured. And still magicked up. You can see him as soon as you like."
"Like to pull his head off my own self, stupid little git."
"Dru came for him, seduced him. Found her dancin' round him as he was feeding off his idiot of a brother-in-law." Family. He winced. "An' she's got away again. Barely thought of her, all these years. Never spoke of her. Never so much as showed the boy her picture, so he'd know her if he saw her. Christ, I'm a moron."
"If you are, then Buffy's another."
"She never wanted to think about my past. Dunno how I'm gonna tell her Goddamnit an' I think she's left me."
"What are you talking about?"
"There was this wizard bloke, name of Saleem. She was workin' with him earlier this year. Got too cozy. Tried to forgive her thought I wanted to forgive her but I couldn't. Can't. Nothin' feels the same, an' we both know it. It's been hell, since. An' now, this. Stupid, stupid, stupid ."
Angel didn't tell him not to be hard on himself. He didn't tell him it would be all right. He'd never said those things back when he was Angelus and Spike was William the fledge, willful and naughty. But his embrace didn't let up, and it felt like the only embrace on earth. Sire. He was that in all but the bare blood fact; with no one to teach him but Dru, he'd have been dusted in a month.
No love there, but Spike knew there were one or two emotions stronger even than love.
Angel's hand was in his hair again, a tentative caress. Spike inhaled his familiar aroma, sighed.
"Will, Will, Will, Will."
"Failed him. I've always failed him. He reminded me of"
"Yeah. Was afraid for him. He knew. Always thought I didn't love him proper. I couldn't show him he thought I cared more for our girl."
"You always did," Angel said. "Never one for the lads, were you. Always playing up tough, but I saw through that."
"Did you?" He was beginning to feel foolish with his head on Angel's shoulder, but he showed no sign of wanting to withdraw, and Spike was so tired. The trouble was a boulder on his chest, it was good to rest it on someone else for a little while.
"Always liked taking care of Drusilla more than anything, you did. Tearing up a roomful of punters was only fun if you could do it with her, or go back an' tell her about it after. Am I right? And all these years, you've cherished Buffy. You've kept her strong, kept her in the world."
He couldn't think of how to acknowledge this amazing admission. Overwhelmed with disbelief at his kindness, the sobs resurged. Angel held him.
"Poor Will. Didn't know what you were getting into."
"He didn't know. We didn't teach him like we should've. Like I should've. S'my fault. If I'd loved him better, would've made sure he wasn't so eager to go be damned forever. Thought no one loved him enough, an' that's why he went into her arms. Must've been."
"Like you," Angel murmured. "Looking for love in all the wrong places. You'd have loved me back then, if I'd let you. Wouldn't you? I think you did."
Spike looked up then, to see Angel's face. Angel kissed him.
His mouth was bruised and cut by Spike's fist, as his own was by Angel's. He tasted blood on the kiss, but not aggression. Angel renewed it, holding his head. His tongue in Spike's mouth tasted of some home he'd left so long ago he'd nearly forgotten it.
"Christ, Will. It's been a long time."
At first Spike thought he meant long time since I had you, but as he continued to kiss him, hungry kisses full of frank desire and a pent-up sweetness, he understood that it was just a long time. Since Angel had touched anyone this way, or been touched.
"For you too," Angel said, his fingers tracing the lines of Spike's face. "I'm sorry. You must miss her so much."
"Don't want to talk about her."
"No." Angel nipped at his ear, his jaw. "What do you want, Will? Have it. Be good for both of us."
Incredulous, Spike drew back. "What're you sayin'? You gonna surrender the brown just 'cause"
"Because I want to. You and I were never lovers, and we were never friends. But I'm your sire, I know you
and this is time out." He pulled his sweater off.
Spike gaped at him, his bruise-darkened face almost comically incredulous. His own words echoed in his mind as Angel reached out to undo Spike's shirt buttons. I know you. It took so long to know a person, and people were so very brief. Wesley was the living being he knew and loved best, and he was sinking day by day beyond the horizon of his illness, it was like watching a candle gutter. Sitting at his bedside every afternoon, Angel longed for unspeakable things for him, for himself. Love was so terrible.
He felt so very empty now. Slept less and less because bed was so empty. Loved his team members less than he'd loved the ones who came before, even as he sensed the futility of such a defense. Less love protected nothingit only made less love. And he already had so little.
He wanted to tell all this to Spike. Spike was an expert in love, it was a mystery to Angel how this was, Spike was soulless and brutal, but he teemed with it, and in recent years it had come back to him tenfold for what he'd given. Spike was loved, and that was like being alive. It was like having a life, and a soul, it was safety. It was precious. He wanted to speak of all this, but he couldn't think how, so he kissed Spike's mouth, sucking on his tongue, ran his hands over the long smooth back, the undulant arms; pulled him in belly to belly so as to feel his cock rising, to take in the subtle scent of his arousal. Spike's body still resonated with unspent sobs like a faint pulse. His hands were in Angel's hair now, gripping tight, and he kissed back with small moans.
"Gonna fuck you. My God, I'm gonna fuck you so you'll know it."
"Yeah," Angel breathed. "Yeah, that's right." He was hard, his cock tenting his trousers, prodding against Spike's. Spike sucked on his mouth, his neck. Then let go, leaning back to push his jeans off.
Standing at the bedside, he was an alabaster pillar, lit on one side by the single low light on the night-stand, shadowed on the other. Angel fisted himself through his trousers, staring at Spike's cock. Hadn't seen it in an age. Had never tasted it, let alone allowed it anywhere near inside him. He'd tormented it and forced shamed pleasure from it, used it to humiliate its owner, as he'd beaten and cursed and raped and fought him.
Somehow through all that, he'd never been able to wring hatred from Spike.
Even when he'd come to torture him for the gem of Amara. Spike had anguish and rage and envy in spades. But not quite hatred.
It was something else between them. Something that couldn't be severed or thinned out by age or distance or misuse or abuse. It made Angel want him now, want him in ways he'd never wanted anybody.
When Spike went into him, Angel thought, he'd feel it. He'd be touched in the place that was dry and cold and nearly dead, and it wouldn't make him happy, not that way, but it would be good, it would be connection, what he needed. He considered that this one indulgence might make the days and nights ahead even more seer. But his cock was throbbing, his whole body alight with need, and nowhere to go but forward. The need was Spike's too. He'd needed the bone-crunching brawl, he needed the tears. And now, before rest, he needed this.
Standing on the other side, Angel pushed off his own clothes. "Come fuck me, then."
The bed lay between them like a field of challenge. Angel stretched out on his back, and reached for him.
He was still half-convinced this was a trap. Sire's big hand would close on his arm, he'd wrestle him down on his belly, pinion him with fangs in the back of his neck, and
When he didn't take the proferred hand, Angel rolled closer and took Spike's cock in his mouth.
He arched, hissed. Angel's hands wrapped around his hips, drawing him forward. They were large hands, encompassing, but not now trying to bruise, to maul. The mouth large toohe took in half Spike's length without seeming effort, and it wasn't spicy hot, like Buffy's small sweet mouth that could hold little more than the knob of him tight as her quim, but wet and close and weirdly familiar, though he'd never been there except in old resentful fantasies. Angel bobbed his head up and down, let him go enough to lick at the tip, his tongue rounding up the droplets of pre-come that spluttered out of him in fast astonished dribbles, before taking him all in again.
Couldn't credit that this was happening.
He still felt like he wanted to cry, but the feeling was all through him now, in his muscles and his balls, that pent-up hot urge, demanding, unstoppable. Angel was looking up at him, it was a look that might kill him, so unlike was it to any way he'd ever seen Angel before.
Then he let the cock go, pulled Spike in closer, and mouthed his balls. Catching at Angel's hair, he groaned, loud enough that the sound echoed through the suite, and Angel groaned too, sounding glad and desperate. He pulled him down onto the bed, onto his back, crouching over him, one of those big fists wrapped around his length, other arm holding down one quivering thigh, the tongue lapping him with the determination of a cat grooming a kitten.
"ChristChrist! Fucking hell, youoh fucking hell." He came suddenly, a spasm like a hard sneeze, shaking all over, crying, arms stretched over his head. The shame descended at once, like darkness. "Damn it."
"No." Angel still held the softening cock. "That was good. You'll get hard again in a minute." Turning, he licked up the white droplets from Spike's belly. Licked a line up the chest. Addressed himself to a nipple, biting gently, then at Spike's gasp, harder. The same to the other one, then loomed over him, in a way that was familiar, that Spike held in permanent memory in his body, all the thousands of times he'd lain beneath Angelus, submitted to him, on his back. His weight pressing down, his cock like a club.
"Kiss me, Will."
Never like this. When he slid his arms around Angel, the other man sighed, rolled them over so Spike was on top. Said it again, Kiss me, and this was someone he didn't know at all.
They sucked one another's mouths. Angel's hard cock was bent back between their bodies. Spike wrapped a hand around it, thumbing the wet tip so that Angel wriggled and moaned. His own twitched, lengthened.
"You really gonna let me do this?"
"Not 'let.' I want it."
"You want me? Want a good fucking?"
"Yeah. Iyeah. God. Do that"
Spike squeezed him harder, rubbing the underside of his prick-head at the old remembered place that made Angelus growl and tense. Wondered when he'd acquired a taste for getting dicked, and with whom. In the old days Angelus would've rolled over for no one. Unimaginable that even as a fledge he'd been made to give it up.
But he was quivering in anticipation, head already rolling on the pillow. The pre-come bubbled out of him; Spike swiped a good thumbful and brought it down to the tight dark pucker between his legs. God, he was so big, big everywhere, like one of those Henry Moore statues, legs like columns toppling as he shoved the knees apart. Pushing the finger in made Angel stiffen and wince.
No. No way. Couldn't be this is his first time. Not for me. "Why're we doin' this?"
"Jeezus, Spike, not now. Play twenty questions after."
Life was one big bewilderment now. Might as well do it up to the hilt. Had to drop in for a closer looktake a taste. Hooked Angel's knees in his hands, rolled him up to expose that most defended place. Scent-of-sire strong now in his nostrils, compounded of hard cock and blood through skin and sharp high need. Mastery (temporarily) displaced. Plunged his tongue into the dark tight place, and Angel's whole body rippled out from that one move, a ripple ending in a hard ungggh. Spike felt a laugh bubbling up. God damn world was upside down. The son he never should've had was a vampire and old Angelus was going to give up his cherry to his own former butt-boy.
And not only that.
Just to make this extra surreal, he was gonna plead.
Angelus was pleading like Buffy did when he bound her hand and foot and oh-so-delicately ate her out.
"Oh GodSpikedo itWillfuckplease"
So damn big and heavy. Crouched like this, arms outstretched to hold his legs, it was almost like pushing a boulder uphill with his tongue.
Substituting fingers for tongue, Spike reared up to have a look at the lie of the land. One arm covered Angel's face. He pulled it down. "Want to see you."
"Do it now."
"Doin' it, yeah. Doin' itChrist. ShitAngel"
He was fucking Angel, Angel's arms were around his neck, his ankles on his shoulders, Angel was straining up to kiss his mouth, between gasps at every sawing in-and-out. Spike wasn't sure when they both fanged out, but the kisses became blood-flavored, the cries turned to growls and rumbling roars.
This was so damn good, it couldn't last, and it didn't. But Angel came first, on a stunned shout, splattering, head thrown back, thrashing under him. When Spike shot, Angel had just caught his tongue again in his mouth; he sucked it in, his arms and arse and everything pulling him in, vibrating and panting and taking it, taking it all.
Spike cried out, dissolved. Long fall, like off Glory's tower. But the landing was soft. Angel held him, arms grappling tight, hand in his hair, and lying like that with his face in Angel's neck he could hear, feel, the deep contented astonishing purr.
He hadn't come with anybody but Mrs Palm and her five daughters for longer than he cared to countwondered how long it had been for Angel. Nothing stopping him getting laid, long as he didn't get too happybut apparently that didn't fit in with the program of self-flagellation and brooding.
Spike blinked and let the silence spin out. Couldn't movespine gone, limbs gone to noodles, and cock nothing but a wodge of wet tissue. But the glow could've powered the whole goddamn hotel.
Couldn't get weirder, or better, so when Angel exhaled and said "Thank you," he put it down to the general unreality, and only nodded.
The next time Angel spoke, he started, knowing he'd been asleep. Shouldn't sleep now. What the fuck was he doing? Didn't come here for this. Had to stay focused. He sat up.
It occurred to him that he'd gotten back at Buffy now.
Maybe in more ways than one.
"What time is it? Why'd you let me sleep?"
"You needed it. When's the last time you had any rest?"
"Don't go all Mamma Bear on me now. Need to get the boy fixed."
"I don't know that you can."
"There's always a loophole, if you know where to look. You know the sort of places one goes to ask for these things."
"Always a loophole, yeah. And for every loophole, a catch."
Spike met his eyes, which were opaque, solemn.
"Anybody can have anything, they're willing to give up enough for it. I'll do anything to get the boy his life back, give him back to his mother an' sister."
For a moment Angel was completely still, his eyes looking not at him, but through him. Then he swung around and rose. "I said that too, once. But Connor's still lost to me. Go on, grab a shower. I'll meet you in the lobby and tell you where to go."
The magic was wearing off. He could blink now, tense his muscles, but still not move. He was in a low, dank place, completely dark, lying on his side on a cement floor, but his demon eyes could discern the black-on-black outlines of the large space, could see the close-set bars of the cage he was locked into. He heard the inner workings of the hotel, it gurgled and groaned around him like the bodies of the victims he'd consumed.
He was hungry.
So hungry. Milo's thin blood was long since absorbed, and the magic that held him immobile for the last day and a half had somehow sapped his energy. Or maybe it was just being immobile for so long, being slung around by his father in a duffle bag with no regard to the fact that he waswell, not a human being, but sentient, and capable of feeling pain, and undeserving of this treatment. He'd only done what vampires dowhat Spike had done thousands of times. It was instinct.
Footsteps overhead, then the bare bulbs above flashed on and two pairs of feet came down a metal stairway. He smelled them, Spike and Angel. Now that he was transformed, his father smelled differentbefore, he'd barely had a smell at all, but on the plane Johnny'd had plenty of time to concentrate on his new olfactory abilities, and to parse the distinctive scents of Spike and Jemima. There was nothing else to do, other than listen to his sister's sub rosa sobbing. He'd have thought she'd be pleased to be well rid of her asshole husband, but after a few hours he decided perhaps she was crying over him, being dead. He'd have reassured her that on the contrary he'd never felt more alive, except for the not being able to move or speak.
They stood now outside the cage, leaning against the bars, looking at him.
He knew about Angel at least a little. That he had a soul, and before that was, as a vampire, the worst of the worst.
That he'd been his mother's first lover. That on the rare occasions when his name came up, she'd sigh, and a grimace would cross Spike's face that he probably wasn't even aware of.
That was all he knew. Except that Drusilla had spoken of him. He was her 'Daddy.' Her sire.
He breathed them in, Angel who had been Angelus, and Spike. There was something new about his father's scent. Something odd, about the two of them.
They smelled of each other.
"He can see and hear?"
"Not sure. I think so."
"Huh." Angel looked at Johnny. "Where'd you get that spell? I could use something like that."
"Friend of a friend."
"How do you undo it?"
"I'll show you after we fit the shackles."
"Looks like it's wearing off already." Angel unlocked the cage. Johnny was trying to move, but the effort only landed him flat on his back.
They stood over him now, one on either side. Johnny showed his fangs, growled.
"What a puppy he is," Spike said. He prodded him in the side with the toe of his boot. "Foolish twat."
"Aw, don't do that," Angel said. "He didn't do anything you didn't do."
"Like I said, foolish twat. An' he's killed at least three people I know aboutyou think his mother's gonna be best pleased with that? If she'd been there, she'd have had to stake him, or hate herself for not having the heart. For chrissakes, he killed his sister's husband. She was about to get a divorce, I hope, but s'not what we need." He heard himself mouthing off, as if any of this was light or funny, and knew his rage had passed into a new phase, had become dryer and whiter, sharper. He couldn't touch his love for the boy through the heat of his anger, or his love for Buffy either, even as he did all this for them, and for Jemima, and wouldn't consider doing otherwise.
The demon that his son had become was an enemy like all those other demon enemies he'd fought at Buffy's side. He'd expend himself in conquering it, and if he fought hard enough, Johnny would be Johnny again. And maybe then heor someonewould be able to talk some sense to him. But right now he could barely see the boy. The enormity of his disappointment blocked him out.
"You're gonna come with me to this place?"
"I'd better not. The Conduit doesn't like crowds."
"Every other time I've gone to ask for information or help from the Powers, I've had to go in alone. Anybody I brought with me got knocked back pretty hard. So ."
"Yeah, all right." He snapped the shackles around Johnny's ankles, with enough give between them so he could walk but not run. Chained his wrists behind his back. Spike tried to remember the last time he'd really touched him. Years now, by the boy's choice. Didn't go in for hugs, even at parting, since he was teenaged. For Spike, love was always intensely physical. Couldn't help feeling more in that rejection of his embrace than just rejection of an embrace.
Johnny's skin was cool. Touching it, Spike wanted to bang his own head against the concrete and howl.
He dragged him up, still growling, to his feet, propped him against the bars.
"Hold him for me. Like that. Yeah." Spike pulled a roll of duct tape from the box, taped Johnny's mouth, right over the curled back lips, the fangs. Took Edwina's talisman from his pocket and touched it to the base of the boy's throat. The magic shimmered away. Johnny sagged, and Angel pressed one hand to his chest to hold him up.
"He's good-looking," Angel said. "Like you were."
"I meanhe reminds me of you back then. How you looked. Before you changed yourself over."
"Suppose so. Buffy thinks he favors her."
"Really? I don't see it."
"He's hungry," Angel said.
"I don't fucking care. No more blood for him. When this is over, we'll go for sodding burritos. Help me get him to the car."
It was like watching a pond ice over. The change in Spike, from how he'd been in the bedroom a half hour ago, to now. He'd been wide open then, raw anguish, raw need. The boy was worse than dead, and all the fault was his, yet he'd accepted solace, been comforted for a few minutes at least.
But that was over. He'd shut it down. Wasn't going to let it get in the way of what he had to do.
Angel knew all about that, the way feeling could overload and cancel itself out, the way the task could become more important than the outcome. As they trundled Johnny out to the car, he wondered how it would go. What they'd be like when he saw them again. If he'd see them again.
Spike wasn't thinking any further ahead, he could tell, then getting into the face of the Conduit and demanding what he wanted. He had that blindish look he would get in the old days before a fight in which they were outnumbered and ought to be without hope. Spike didn't need hope going into a fight, he shunted it off along with reason and fear.
As he got into the car, he said, "See you later."
He said it because it was something to say.
Angel watched the taillights until they disappeared down the boulevard, then went back inside.
He was at his desk, drinking coffee, deliberately not looking at his watch as he sifted through paperwork Rita had left for his signature. He didn't share Spike's arrogant assurance that anything could be bought. Maybe it would've been better if he'd left Spike sleeping and staked the boy himself.
He'd never have forgiven him, but then there were plenty of other things already that Spike had against him. And better perhaps to face Spike's rage than Buffy's, if he got himself fucked up beyond recall. She'd blame him for not putting a stop to it.
Someone came into the hotel. The scent was new, but had an undercurrent of familiarity. Light steps crossed the lobby, and the bell on the counter rang.
He rose silently to peer out without leaving the office. He could see the newcomer, but she couldn't see him.
"Hello? Anybody here? I need to speak to Angel."
The counter came up to her bust. A small, fine, pale face, medium-brown, medium-length hair parted on the side, eyes of indeterminate color in swollen lids, underscored by smudges of grey. The red lipstick seemed out of place on such a devastated face. He could hear her heart racing.
"Hello? Is anyone here?"
Something vaguely known about the timbre of the voice, as well as the scent. She turned to look around the lobby, to scan the balcony.
While her back was to him, he stepped out.
She jumped. "Oh! Oh ." She fell back a little from the counter as he came up to it, raising her face to look at him. It was that he recognized, more than any particular feature, that way of tipping back to look up into his height. He made the connection just as she opened her mouth to speak, and it shook him.
"I'm Jemima WhidI mean, Jemima Summers."
It wasn't so much that she looked like Buffy. She did. A lot. She looked like Spike too, but what she really put him in mind ofand he couldn't quite believe he remembered themwas William's photographs of his dead sisters, those contraband sepia images. Why, with all the other ways he'd found to torture him, hadn't he confiscated those pictures, forced Spike to burn them? He'd thought it insipid enough that he'd treasure anything from his past life. But they must've made some sort of impression on Angelus, because now he could see them in his mind's eye, and she was like those girlsformal, solemn, serious, but with a hint that all that could fall away before laughter and delight.
Which were in short supply for her at the moment.
The last time he'd seen any picture of her was easily eighteen years before. For a couple of years, Buffy was enamored of those sort of Christmas cards that were a photograph of the children with a message printed on it. He'd kept them, looking at them sometimes with wonder and a sense that these kids were somehow connected to him, because he was connected to Spikebut the feeling shamed him, and he never mentioned it to Wes.
She spoke with a sort of English accent, which wasn't too surprising, given that she'd lived in England since her marriage. He knew that much about her, and that the marriage had pleased neither Buffy, nor Spike, nor, apparently, Jemima herself.
He couldn't think what to say to her. That she existed at all was startling enough; he'd never imagined meeting her. "I didn't know you were here in Los Angeles."
She looked confused. "But I came with Papa. Didn't he say? Where is he? He left me at the hotel to sleepby time we got here I just couldn't stay awake another minute. But he said he'd call. He should've rung me up by now." As she spoke she paled even more; her eyes were shiny with dread.
Angel was stuck on the soft way she said 'Papa.' He thought maybe it was that that unhinged him.
"He uh he went to see what could be done for your brother."
Jemima's eyes widened. In the silence, she seemed to feed her anxiety to him.
"I um I meant to say. I'm sorry. About ."
She said, "Went where?" and he said, "How's your mother?"
The remarks vanished into the vastness of the lobby.
She swallowed, glanced nervously around. Beneath her freshly-applied perfume, she smelled of fear.
Angel tried again. "Your mother"
"I can't believe he went without me. I need to be there. Where they are."
"Look, come inside. Have you eaten? There's coffee."
She looked at him then as if he was insane. "Don't you understand? I have to be with them!"
Angel had the odd sensation that he was an elephant afraid of a mouse. "J-Jemima," it felt strange to say her name, as if it was a presumption, "that's not a good idea. He's gone to importune a Conduit to the Higher Powers. It's very dangerous. I'm sure Spike didn't want"
"Take me there! This minute, take me there! Oh God, I'm afraid"
"Well, see, that's why you shouldn't"
She seemed to grow in a moment. Or maybe she just went up on tiptoe. But she was immense as she shouted at him. "Stop making excuses! They're all I have left I can't wait Take me there now!"
All she had left? Hard to grasp that someone so young, vibrant, should be so desperate; Angel had come, in his growing isolation and loneliness, to feel that that was the province only of the very old, like him. She startled him to his core, this little woman, with her fierceness and her Buffy-eyes and her refusal to be coddled or cowed. Her small hands gripped the edge of the counter, the knuckles white. She had pretty nails, painted the same red as her lipstick. She had a wedding band and a diamond ring, and a blistering intensity in her stare.
"I'll get the car keys."
She raised her chin. "Hurry!"
"Please tell me she blindsided you. Tell me she grabbed you while you were being sick in the alley behind the pub an' you never knew what was happening."
Behind the duct tape, Johnny grunted.
The driving was a problem. Spike could see it was going to be a problem as soon as they'd been on the freeway for ten minutes. It was still just late afternoon, newly dark. He couldn't bear the radioLA drive-time voices chattering away about all kinds of bullshit that ignored how his marriage was falling to shit and his son was a member of the Grateful Dead and even Jemima wouldn't look at him with a frank expression. And this was the first time he'd been alone with Johnny since well, he couldn't remember since when.
Before he spoke, Spike had a vivid fantasy that lasted past four exits, of taking one, finding some deserted parking lot behind a warehouse, and kicking the shit out of the boy until he was vampire hamburger. He could practically feel the bones crunching against his steel toe.
"Because that I could maybe forgive. Christ. I know I should've hunted her down years ago an' staked her. I know that. But fucking hell, boy, you're the son of the Slayeryou can't have been so bloody stupid as to get tricked by a vampire."
Another grunt. Spike glanced at him. His eyes glittered. He was still in game-face. Either out of defiance or because he couldn't figure out how to slough it off. He remembered he'd found it tricky at first too.
"What've you got to say for yourself?" He tore the tape off, hard and fast, so Johnny yowled and flinched. "Shut up that noise an' answer me."
"I'm a way better fuck than you are, apparently."
He wished he'd left the tape in place.
"She said so a bunch of times."
"Don't care what Dru saidshe's crazy."
"You care." Johnny laughed. "You're so pussy-whipped it's not even funny."
"Shut yer gob before I shut it for you."
"What I don't get is what you gave it up for. I meanshit. Fucking Mamma can't be that fulfilling. Not after all these years. If you needed her so much, why the hell didn't you turn her so the two of you could, you know, really live? I meanit's pathetic that you didn't. You're pathetic. All this power, appetite, it's fucking incredible, it's the most amazingly great thing ever, and you walk away from it. You don't even have the excuse Angel's got. The soul. I could smell it on him." He made a face, and spat. The stuff dripped from the dashboard. "I know about the chip. But you got that out before I was born. That's when any vampire worth the name would've made his move. You'd waited long enough. Mamma trusted youyou could've taken her in her sleep by then, for chrissakes, easy-peasy. I can't believe you didn't want that. Instead you went on living in that stupid little house, drinking pig blood and tying Jemima's pig-tails, and calling Mamma 'my queen' like some ball-less dork. No wonder she doesn't love you anymore."
Spike swerved out of the left lane, cutting off three other cars with a screech of tires, barreled onto the shoulder and slammed into park. With a roar that shook the car, he grabbed Johnny by the throat.
"You little shitgive me one good reason why I don't dump you in the desert tonight so you'll fry at dawn."
Johnny stared back, and didn't tremble. "Because, Mr Whippee, Mamma would never forgive you if you did."
"Believe me, she wouldn't have to know."
"Anyway, you wouldn't, because you wuv me. I'm your precious little boy." He chortled. "That's your disease. Love."
Spike pressed him down onto the seat, out of view of the passing drivers, and punched him in the face until he felt the nose break. Then he tore off a new piece of duct tape and stuck it over the bloody mess.
He came back, moving slowly, with an axe. Big heavy-browed man with an axe, and yet there was something tentative and furtive about the way he held himself. It suggested he was lying to her. She didn't know what to make of him. She'd heard and read so many stories about Angel and Angelusincluding Uncle Rupert's Watcher Diaries, and anecdotes from Uncle Xander to be filed under 'don't mention to your mother that I told you this'. Growing up, she'd felt a powerful curiosity about that split personality everyone attributed to him. She was very aware that he'd been her mother's first lover, though they never spoke about that at home.
The soul, the gypsy curse, it was mysterious and a little bit hard to believe; Milo had always described it as a sort of jiggery-pokery, but then he had no interest at all in seeing a good side to any vampire, or even plumbing the details of their behavior.
"Did you bring an axe for me, too?" she said. "Will we need that? Where are you taking me?"
"I don't know if we'll need it. I
seldom go anywhere without an axe."
He didn't speak in the car. Not a man to fill a silence. She was grateful for that; didn't want to be distracted from her own nearly overwhelming anxiety. She couldn't understand why Spike had gone off without even speaking to her first. It could only mean he was planning something so dangerous he didn't want her near it. She wished now that she'd talked to him on the plane about what they were going to do in Los Angeles. She hadn't thought about it at all; the whole time her mind was clouded with what had already happened. All that death in the space of a few days, it felt like her fault. She should've kept closer tabs on Johnny. He'd given her so many signals that all wasn't right with him. She should've listened. Postponed the abortion to be with him. If she'd done that he'd be alive. He'd be alive, Milo would be alive, and the child well, the child would still have to go.
Angel cleared his throat. "Are you all right?"
"How far is it?"
"Outside the city. Another hour."
They'd been riding for thirty minutes already.
"You asked me before, about my mother." She watched his impassive profile. "She doesn't know about this. She's on a mission, in Asia. Before that, she was well. Now, I can't say how she'll be."
There was a pause. Then he said, "You can go ahead and cry if you feel like it."
"I've been crying for days." She fiddled with the clasp of her handbag. "Is there any chance Johnny can be, you know, un-vamped? Made alive again?" As soon as the question was out, she wished she hadn't asked it, and knew he wished so too.
"You probably hear this a lot, but you're like her. Your mother. I always thought well, I thought she was the prettiest girl in the world."
"I'm not pretty. And I'm not really like her at all. But, uh, thanks."
"Don't take it like that, I just meantand you are pretty."
"Oh for chrissakes, I'm a widow of thirty, I had an abortion last week and my brother is a monster, who cares what I look like?"
"Sorry. I was just sorry."
"Why didn't you stop him? If this is so dangerous"
"Nobody stops Spike. Anyway he's got to do what he's got to do."
" I know. I just don't want" Her stomach growled. She hoped he hadn't heard it, although of course he had, she knew he could hear her blood circulating and probably her cells dividingwhen she was small Papa used to amuse her by saying he could hear that and describing what it sounded like and where in her body they were multiplying most furiously, and she'd believed him as she believed everything he said.
She didn't want Angel to remark on her hunger or suggest they stop. Nobody was going to stop her, either.
God, she should've spoken to Papa on the plane, found out what he was thinking, consoled him. Of course he wouldn't care about Milo. He was only trying to protect her and Johnny. If they'd stayed, called the authorities they'd still be there. Tangled up with police and red-tape and suspicion. He'd done the right thing. Right by his lights. Which weren't quite the same as hers, as her mother's, supposedly because he had no soul.
Although there were plenty of people with perfectly good ones who'd have done the same.
She still didn't understand this soul thing. Who could say he didn't have one? All along she'd thought it was just another word for love, because she'd always assumed that was what made Papa unique among all the vampires she'd ever seen or read aboutnot that he loved at all, which wasn't so unusual, but that he loved the living, and didn't want to make them over to be undead like him.
"Why didn't you go with him? Help him?"
"It doesn't work like that."
"What doesn't work like that?"
"He's trying to make a bargaina dealwith the Powers That Be. For your brother's life. There's nothing I could do one way or the other. I'm not part of it."
"Well, I am. Drive faster."
It was cold here, and the stars seemed very high and far away. This distance from the highway everything seemed remote. Spike wasn't sure if he'd come to the right placeAngel's directions were good, but there was so little to distinguish these dry hills from any others, even to his heightened senses. He'd pulled Johnny out of the car, set him kneeling on the scrubby ground, and made a circle around the two of them in the dirt. If he was in the right place, and got the incantation right, then they'd be admitted to an antechamber where he could address the Conduit.
Only as the portal shimmered into being in front of them did it occur to Spike to wonder what he was going to offer for the boy's life.
The Conduit-thing was enormous and grumpy and impossible to look at directly without burning the eyes. It lived, if you could call it that, inside a sort of cave, except not made of rockrather made of something else that was also enormous and grumpy and impossible to look at; it squelched and undulated under his feet and gave off a foetid disquieting heat. Like being inside something's mouth. Something that didn't want to swallow two vampires; that wanted to vomit them out, as violently as possible.
The thing picked Johnny up by the neck and snapped him, like a towel. "NONE ADDRESSES US WITHOUT AN OFFERING. IS THIS YOUR OFFERING, LOWLY ENTREATOR?"
"THEN WHY IS HE CHAINED AND BOUND IF NOT AS AN OFFERING TO US? WORTHLESS, UNWANTED OFFERING."
The whole chamber rippled; Spike's feet were sinking into the floor, and he had to throw his arms out to keep from toppling. Johnny was keening in terror, struggling so hard that he tore through the duct tape; his scream reverberated around the chamber.
Spike braced himself and spoke into the sickening brightness. "He's my stupid son who got himself turned. He's not just my sonhis mother's the Slayer. An' not just the regular slayershe's the Slayer who was dead an' resurrected. Buffy Summers. The one you Powers must respect, 'cause you've seen to it she's still around all this time. She's off fightin' some big Nasty right now, an' I'm here on her behalf as well as my own."
"THAT IS OF NO IMPORTANCE. THIS BORES US." It bounced Johnny like a ball on a string, then let him drop from a great height. "WHAT IS THE OFFERING?"
"I'm the offering. Give him his life back an' let him go from here, an I"
"WHAT? YOU DARE TO HAGGLE WITH US? YOU ARE ONLY A VAMPIRE. A VAMPIRE IS NO OFFERING."
The chamber convulsed then, with an ear-shattering noise. It was like being inside a whooping cough. The floor was no longer the floor, and when he fell the surface singed his skin and clothes. He heard Johnny cry out again, but couldn't see him, or much of anything.
He struggled up. The atmosphere was murky now as well as impossibly brilliant. "Hey! Master vampire here! I'm oldwell, older than plentyan' cunning, an' strong. You give me what I ask, an' I'llI'll give myself in his place. Use me to fight your battles."
"YOU?" The rumbling that followed must've been laughter, at least if you could say a volcano erupting was laughter too.
"I've helped save the world a time or two! But if that's not bloody tempting, send me to hell to pay for his life. Give him his normal span of years, an' I'll work it off in any hell you pick. For as long as you say."
"I see it." She opened the door even before the car bumped to a stop. They'd been riding over shaggy dry hummocks of grass for the last ten minutes.
Angel grabbed her arm. "You see it? How can you see it?"
"Let go of me. Sometimes I seemystical things. Openings. I have since I was a kid. It's my one utterly useless power." She leapt out, running towards the shimmer.
He caught up with her, grabbed her arm again. "Let me go first. Make sure it's safe."
She glanced up at him. The blue glow of the portal played over his features, but he didn't seem aware of it.
"Of course it isn't safe. And you don't see it at all, do you, so I have to show you. Come, it's here." She grabbed his handit was cool, like Papa's, but much larger. For a moment he resisted her tugging, then followed just as she was going to let go. She didn't need him for this, not anymore.
When she pushed herself into the thin opening, it squeezed her all around, so she couldn't get her breath. The atmosphere on the other side was convulsed and confused; it felt like she was pressing against some kind of invisible repellent membrane.
That's when Angel put his body around hers and forced them both through with a sensation like turning inside out.
The first thing she heard, before she could see anything at all, was Papa volunteering for hell.
The chamber convulsed around them. "WORTHLESS VAMPIRE BESEECHING A WORTHLESS BARGAIN! YOU ARE TWO DEAD CREATURES OF NO IMPORTANCE! HOW DARE YOU COME HERE AND BRAG TO US!"
"Not bragging! Just telling what I'll do. I'll do anything. Anything so you send the boy back to his mother the way she made himalive."
"WHY WOULD YOU WANT SUCH A THING, VAMPIRE?"
"Told youhe's my son! You know thatthe Powers know everything!"
Johnny was completely folded up, and even Spike was cowering now. Angel held onto Jemima, trying to shield her with his body from the nauseating heat and undulations, the sense of psychic unease so strong it made even him feel ill. But she struggled in his arms, jabbing her sharp heels into his shins. She had nothing remotely like her mother's strength, but their implacability was the same.
"WE KNOW. YOU ARE THE VAMPIRE WHO IS NOT LIKE THE OTHERS. YOU THINK YOU ARE A HERO BECAUSE YOU LIE WITH ONE. YOU THINK THAT ENTITLES YOU TO IMPORTUNE US."
"So, are you gonna give me what I ask?"
"YOU WILL SUFFER ETERNAL AGONY SO THE BOY MAY LIVE AGAIN?"
"Just said so, didn't I?"
"YOUR SENSE OF SELF IS LARGE. YOU BELIEVE YOUR SERVICE HAS WORTH, OR YOUR SUFFERING MERIT. WHAT IF YOUR REMOVAL TO HELL REMOVED YOU AS WELL FROM THE MEMORY OF ALL WHO KNOW YOU?"
Spike was on his knees now, vamped out, grimacing in pain beneath the Conduit's crushing force. Beside him, reduced by terror to a trembling lump, Johnny mewled like a sick infant. Jemima had stopped resisting, thrilled frozen by the scene. Angel felt her body temperature decline as dread turned to stone terror.
"You'd let the boy go and no one would know?"
"YOUR NAME, YOUR BODY, EVERY SHRED OF AN IDEA OF YOU WOULD BE ERASED FROM THIS WORLD. YOU'D TOIL FOREVER IN THE LOWEST HELL AND THESE YOU CARE FOR WOULD KNOW NOTHING OF YOU."
"And my son will have his life?"
"HE WILL HAVE HIS LIFE. AND THOSE HE KILLEDFIVE SOULSSHALL HAVE THEIRS. IT IS MORE THAN YOU DESERVE BUT YOUR PETITION IS NOVEL AND DIVERTS US."
Whatever it was that had him pressed down must've eased then; Spike stood upright, tremulous, paler than pale, his hands dangling as if the muscles had been cut. "I accept. 'Course I accept." His voice rattled, small and bare-sounding in the vast space, like an old old man's. "Thank you. It's more than I Please, before I go, just let me have a moment"
He knelt beside Johnny, who raised his head. The yellow eyes were incredulous, suspicious.
"Can't give you a message, can I, you won't remember but loved you always, though you maybe didn't know it. You'll know it now, for a minute anyway."
"You're crazy! I don't want this! My life? What good was that? I don't want anything from you! Cancel thisI'm going back to Drusilla." He tried to rise, arms wrenching against the manacles.
As if he hadn't spoken at all, Spike reached out, put his fingers through the boy's hair with a soft, contemplative gesture. Angel could tell he wasn't seeing the angry vampire, but the man he'd been, or perhaps not even that, but the little boy, the infant in arms, still innocent and sweet-smelling and simple. He'd seen that himself once, in the face of another young man's rejecting rage.
"You'll be all right. You're a good, smart boy, an' you'll have a good life. Take care of your mum an' your sister. There's nothing more important than your kin. You hear me? Work hard, an' find a sweet girl to love, an' this'll be worth it."
Jemima cried out, a high terrible echoing wail. She convulsed against Angel so he had to drop her.
Spike started up at the sound, dreamy tenderness giving way to alarm. He'd been too preoccupied to scent their presence. Spotting her now, his expression was taken by a dismay Angel had never seen on him before.
"No! No no no!" Jemima pulled free and threw herself in between them, face upraised to the shifting terrible brilliance of the Conduit. "You can't do that! He's too good a fighter to take this way! The Slayer needs him! Let them both go and kill me instead! My life for their freedom! Come, that's a good trade!" She rushed towards the glaring radiance, face set against the nauseating energy that pulsed from it.
Angel had never felt so heavy, useless, stupid, as he did in that moment. The scene seemed to slow down so he could experience every detail with apparent leisure: Jemima's whip-tense gestures, the sharp smell of her fear and resolve. Spike's burgeoning horror as he snatched at her shoulders, tried to drag her aside. The glance he shot back at him, full of incredulous reproach.
The boy's reaction seemed even slower, a film shown frame by frame. He stared, eyes widening. Then the game face fell away, bit by bit, as the mouth opened to emit a silent howl. He rocked up to his feet, arms and shoulders straining. The manacle flew open; suddenly free, he seized hold of her arm. For a moment it looked like the two vampires might tear the girl in half between them. Seemingly unaware of that, she just went on demanding to be killed instead of any of them.
Spike bellowed, "No!", and "Get the fuck out!" Strength returning with a jolt, Angel lunged forward to jerk Jemima back. She cried and convulsed in his grip; the electricity of her panic transmitted itself to Angel's skin in sharp little shocks.
That's when Johnny screamed "Stop!
The chamber shook, throwing them apart; Angel just managed to keep his hold on Jemima as he toppled. When he looked up, Johnny was dangling, suspended in air.
"THE YOUNG VAMPIRE WILL SPEAK. SPEAK!"
The terror was on him again, but Johnny stared at Jemima and that seemed to give him courage. His voice wasn't loud, but it was nearly steady. "Stop this. Don't hurt my sister. I'm nothing, I'm rubbish, I don't matter anymore. Just dust me and let them all go. Dust me and end this!"
"YOU REJECTED LIFE, YOU WANTED TO RETURN TO YOUR SIRE, TO YOUR BLOODLUST AND FREEDOM. IS THAT NO LONGER YOUR WISH, CAPRICIOUS VAMPIRE?"
"Please don't hurt my sister. Please. Or or him. My mother needs him. She's the Slayer."
"IT HAS BEEN MENTIONED."
"This is a big mistake. Just dust me and let them get out of here."
"WHAT DO YOU CARE FOR THESE, SOULLESS CREATURE?"
Johnny was sobbing now. "I still feel for her it burns, here, it's horrible. Make it stop. Just end me, and end this!"
A new sound issued from the Conduit, a jarring rumble that vibrated them all so hard Angel bit into his own tongue.
At his side, Jemima whispered, "Oh Christ, it's laughing ."
"YOU THINK THAT TINY BIT OF LOVE BURNS YOU, LITTLE VAMPIRE? YOU ARE SUCH A COWARD YOU SEEK TO ESCAPE EVEN THAT? YOU ARE TOO AFRAID OF SUFFERING. BUT NOW A LESSON. YOU WILL BE LIKE YOUR FATHER WHO CAME TO SEEK MERCY FOR YOU."
The air flashed, Johnny shrieked, and Angel could smell it, the union of soul and flesh, forced together like a hot brand driven against the skin.
He smelled it twice.
The air was clear, cold, thin after the crowded atmosphere of the Conduit's chamber. A breeze played over his face. Overhead, the stars twinkled. Jemima snuffled at his side, sitting up slowly, holding her head, and further off, the two vampires lay sprawled in agonized silence.
Angel knew the feeling.
He staggered up. Jemima was already bent over Spike, crying and laughing and saying "Papa Papa Papa." Johnny scrambled onto hands and knees, gripped by violent dry heaves.
Angel clapped a hand on his shoulder. "Can't get it out like that, son," he said. "Believe me, I've tried."
Jemima had never, since she was eight or so, wished to be anyone else. But she did now, driving Spike's rental car back to Los Angeles with him stretched out in the back. She wished she was her mother.
Her mother ought to be here for this.
It wasn't that her mother would know would to doshe was fairly sure she wouldn't, particularly, anymore than Jemima herself didbut it was her Spike needed. He needed the physical solace of her body.
She'd tried again to reach her by phone before they started the drive back to the city, but once again she only reached the voice mail. Even if Buffy was merely in Nepal and not in some other dimension altogether, Jemima knew the phone service there could be spotty. It often was in the sorts of places Buffy traveled. She left another message, saying where they'd be.
She drove with the windows open, snuffing up big breaths of cool moving air. The disgusting atmosphere of that place, the way the walls and floor moved, left her breathless and ill. What he'd tried to do in there, the bargain he'd agreed to with the Powers, made her so angry. She didn't want to trade him, not even for her brother's life. The thought that all knowledge of him might've been erased from her mindshe imagined it like a big dirty thumb coming down to squish through the lobes of her brainwas appalling. He was going to do that without allowing her a say! If Angel had refused to take her there, if they'd reached it too latehe'd be gone. Entirely gone, and what would be in his place? Who would her father be, what would her life be? She couldn't imagine herself except as his daughter.
She was angry at both of them, Spike and Johnny. Angrier than she'd ever been in her life. The more she imagined what had happened to her brother, why he'd allowed it to happenbecause he must have, no one got turned without at least some tiny spark of volitionthe more this hot feeling of betrayal and helplessness crept over her.
Angel had seen that, and didn't want to let her make this drive alone. But there were two cars, and it was pretty obvious anyway that trying to put both shocked vampires into one of them together wasn't going to work very well. Johnny was furious at Spike for getting me fucked up like this! as he kept screaming. She was glad Angel could take him on, and suspected he'd cold-cocked him as soon as she drove off.
For the first hour of the drive, Spike lay unmoving with his face pressed into the join between the seat and the back-rest. Sometimes she heard him crying quietly, and then she didn't know what to do; the world was upside down when he was in tears. He wouldn't answer when she spoke, and she wasn't sure why he was so upsetthey were all still here, uninjured.
Tears rose up in her own eyes, immediately dashed away by the wind. Part of her anger was at herself, for feeling angry at all, especially at Papa. He was trying to do his best for them. Of course it would seem good to him, to agree to anything for the sake of one of those he loved. He'd always been that way.
She understood that, shouldn't be hung up by it. But he'd tried to trick her, and that was she remembered how Buffy used to put her to bed when she was small, and not tell her she was about to leave on a mission. She did it, she said, to avoid a fuss, because she thought the parting would be easier somehow. But in the morning, when she awoke to find they were gone, and she'd been deprived of the special last embraces and kisses and words she needed when they left her for days at a time, the helpless rage swallowed everything, and if they phoned, she couldn't speak to them.
This was like that again, except with a side of narrowly-averted mind-rape.
She was startled by a touch to her hair, and swerved.
"Sssh, sorry. Should've made a bit a noise."
She set her mouth. He didn't remove his hand, but sat forward, stroking her hair softly. "Jemmie, better stop up there. Can hear your stomach growling. There's no rush, got hours of dark left. You should have something to eat."
"Sure you are. Thirsty, too. After all that screaming, crying."
Now he said it, the sensation crashed on her; all at once she was light-headed, hollow. She pulled abruptly into the Denny's parking lot, cut the engine, let her forehead rest against the steering wheel.
"I was screaming and crying because you tricked me and you were going to leave me and I couldn't bear it, I couldn't bear it I couldn't bear it I couldn't bear it!"
"Tricked you? No baby, really. Just just had things to go over with Angel while you were resting, yeah, an' then you know. Didn't want to put you in any danger. Not after what happened to Johnny. But had no plans to trick you. Didn't stop you goin' to Angel, catching up with us, did I?" He climbed over into the front, popped her seatbelt and pulled her against him in one smooth motion. "Sssh, sweetness, no more crying."
"You were crying! I should've stopped and helped you, I didn't know what to do! What's happened to you! What happened in there! I don't understand!" It was all hitting her now, she wondered how she'd managed to sit upright, to drive.
"Sssh, sssh, gonna make yourself ill."
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry." She didn't know why she was saying that. Except it felt wrong and weak to be like this, for him to have to comfort her. He was the one who was in trouble.
"Let's go in. Get you fed."
"What does it feel like? Papa, the soul, what does it feel like? Why does it make you cry?"
He smiled a little, his eyes shadowed and old-looking. He traced the shape of her jaw, lightly, with the side of his finger. The touch made her shiver, and she leaned into it. "You know what I am, Pudding. But you don't know all I've done, across so many many years. In a way, neither did I. Only now all at once now I do. Now I feel every bit of it."
She looked at him, his face half-lit and angular in the yellow parking-lot lights. A glimmer, tiny, wildly reluctant, at the edge of her consciousness, was helped by memory of what the Conduit said, five people killed by her brother in a couple of days. Five people, multiplied not by days but by decades. Decades upon decades.
She winced, shook her head. "But you're good. You're good and you've been good, for a long long time!"
"Come on. Talk about this later."
She held his hand as they walked toward the restaurant. His grip was tentative, she could tell he was being patient, extraordinarily patient, in a way that couldn't possibly last. He was staving off somethingsomething too enormous and unconscionable for her to fathom or even want to know. Staving it off until they were no longer alone together, until he could hand her off and then
It made Johnny rave and swear and scream. Was it going to be the same with him? Was he going to go mad in another hour, or a day?
How was she going to cope with this? Why wasn't her mother here?
As they reached the entrance, she drew him around. "Papa, one thing."
He waited, almost not looking at her. The threads of his calm were, she thought, starting to show. She hastened to speak. "Whatever happensor happenedwhatever you are, or were, or will becomeI love you. Nothing is going to change that. Absolutely nothing."
He nodded, one curt nod as if acknowledging some banal remark, and pulled open the door.
"So now I'm supposed to sit at your feet so you can teach me how to be a good vampire? Forget it. I didn't ask for this."
"Them's the breaks, kid."
"Fuck you. Fuck you, and fuck him. What, I'm supposed to be glad now? That I'm spared any more blood on my hands? Hey, I liked it! I still like it! I'd like some right now!"
"Feed you back at the hotel. Why don't you shut up 'til then?"
"Why don't you? I'm supposed to be grateful because Papa loves me so damn much he was gonna die for me? I didn't ask him to do that. At least that thing screwed him too. I guess you're pretty sore you're not the only one anymore. The Amazing Angel, Only Vampire With a Soul."
"Well, I'm not gonna give you any competition. So not interested in the whole goodie two-shoes thing. What a bore. You can't force me to do anything."
"That's not entirely true."
"What? You're gonna hold me down and pull my fangs out?"
Angel repressed an urge to snarl.
"You think I didn't know about that? I know stuff." Johnny smiled suddenly. He was in game-facehad been all along. "I know stuff that happened back when when my father was a fledgling. And I know stuff that's more recent. In fact, if you don't stop the car and let me go right now well, I might tell what I know. To my mother."
"So tell." Angel speeded up.
"You don't mean that. You think I wouldn't do it? I'd do it. Stop the car. I'm out of here."
"Shut up. If I stop this car, you won't like what happens next."
"So don't stop. Yeah, it's better if you don't."
Johnny laughed, and then he wasn't there. The passenger-side door yawed. Angel started to jam on the brakes, but another car was coming up fast behind him, and there was no shoulder; just a guard-rail between the curving road and a sharp drop down a scrubby hillside. By time he could pull over, the spot where Johnny bailed was nearly a mile back. There was no point doubling back; by time he could get onto the other side of the highway, return to the spot, climb down the incline, Johnny would be long gone.
He should've chained him up for the trip, except he'd really thought the kid would settle down once Spike was out of sight and they were moving. He remembered his own experiencethe intensity of the pain when the soul suffused him like a virulence, the fear and agony of his victims more real to him than the clothes on his body, or its hunger. He'd been nearly immobile for days afterwards.
But Johnnyobvious nowwasn't him.
more like Connor.
"I'm sorry," Angel said. "I should've taken precautions."
After letting him in, Spike went back to kneeling at the mini-bar, pulling out bottles. Some were already scattered in a half circle on the carpet. Angel wandered to a window. The suite was enormous, affording a glittering LA view. The Council certainly did things differently for the slayer these days. At least, for Buffy. Ample salary, private plane, deluxe hotel rooms anywhere sheor her familywent. Spike seemed pretty used to it, but then, he'd always been adaptable.
He shrugged, rising with two fistfuls of tiny bottles. "Would do my drinkin' in the bar, 'cept not in any mood to hear music. Why's there always music in a bar? Tony place like this, you'd think they'd like a dignified silence to go with the mahogany paneling an' the cigars." He glanced at Angel. "Never mind the boy. Wasn't your fault. Couldn't hold him forever if he had a mind to scarper."
"Maybe. Except that he's going to feed, and someone's probably going to die."
"Many do." Spike dumped the bottles in the middle of one of the two big beds, and sprawled beside them. "Many many many."
"Look, are you all right?"
"Are you?" Spike cracked the seal on a Dewar's, sucked it empty. "Big change for you, isn't it, not bein' the only one any more? Rocks your little world, I expect."
"Huh. That's what he said."
"Sorry, mate. Know you set some store by it. There's some kind of prophecy attached, I'll bet. Don't worry, whatever it is, you can keep it."
"Spike. You didn't answer my question."
"Jemmie was so worried. She thought I was gonna lose my mind in bloody fucking Denny's, have a psychotic break right there. Poor girl, she thinks I'm a good fellow. One of nature's gentlemen. Consternates her, it does, to think of me suddenly havin' a soul, because then she's got to think of what I was like without one." He opened and emptied another bottle. "Doesn't know me at all, sweet little darling. Y'know, they say even Joe Stalin was beloved by his daughter."
"Spike, don't do this." Angel pulled the next bottle from his hand. "Where is she now?"
"Suite across the hall. Asleep, if there's any justice. Got these little white pills, handy things."
"Pills? How many did she take?"
"Just the one." Spike giggled suddenly. "Very clean-living she is. Doubt Jem's ever been more than tiddly off a pint of shandy in her life. Nah, she wanted to get a good sleep in, so she'd be all fresh an' ready to help her brother. Thought he'd be wanting her. Good cop to our bad cop. Not that that's how she put it. As it is, she can sleep in."
"She said she a lot's happened to her, the last few days."
The silly smile on Spike's lips dissolved. "She told you? 'Bout the baby?"
"Uh just that she had an abortion."
"Just. S'no just about it. Christ, I'd've put my own eyes out before I'd let her see me shed a tear over thatcouldn't go makin' it harder for her. Girl's got to do what seems right to her, but an' now the boy'll never be a Dad neither. He's still dead. Worse'n'dead. An' where's their mother? S'not right that she doesn't even know yet."
"Do you have any of those pills? Maybe you should take a couple, get some rest."
"Couldn't sleep if you shot me full of elephant tranq."
"You don't know 'til you try. Look, I'll stay with you until you fall asleep, if"
"What're you now, a bleedin' saint?" Spike rubbed his eyes, leaving them redder than they were before. "Shit, how've you stood it all these years? They hate you, some of 'em, and some of 'em don't, some of 'em are just they're just bloody fucking bewildered. They die prayin' to Jesus because they just can't believe what's happening to them. Dunno which is worse."
"Spike when was the last time you made a kill?"
"Dunno. Nineteen-ninety-eight or so. Forget exactly. What difference does it make? They're all fresh up here." He tapped on his forehead. "An' it's not just that. Jem's moron of a husband wasn't dead when we left him there. Told her he was because it was Johnny I was concerned about. More worried about the dead than the livin', because he was one of mine" He grimaced. "An' now I feel him. I feel his terror, his desperation. Lyin' there listenin' to us moving away, realizing we weren't stopping for him. God. God help me. Only he won't, will he? No help for the likes of us."
"What you didthat's a judgement call you could argue"
"Don't wanna argue. Don't fucking argue with me, what's the use of that? You wanna be of some use right now, Godfather of Soul, get your kit off an' fuck me." Spike staggered up as he spoke, undoing his fly, shoving the jeans down. His cock, half erect, bounced as he kicked free of them. "What I need right now's your splitter up my arse an' no more talk."
"You want me to punish you." Angel stepped away. Ought to leave but couldn't figure out how to turn his back, how to get out the door. It didn't seem likely Spike would stay put quietly if he did, and he'd already made one egregious error that night.
"Nah, can kiss me an' all." He lurched forward, grabbed Angel's head in both hands, and demonstrated.
I know stuff that happened back when when my father was a fledgling. And I know stuff that's more recent.
Angel pulled back.
"Hey, this is a first, innit? Two souled vampires havin' a shag. S'one for the record books. We'll have to call the Council after, make sure they note it down in their big leather-bound chronicle."
"Spike, I don't think"
"Yeah, s'what I like about you. Now get your kecks off an' give it me good."
Wouldn't ever say it out loud to him, an' thank Christ the old pouf was too slow-witted to twig to itbut it was a deep solace, having sire penetrate him, breathing in Angel's scent, supporting his weight, enormous and heavy and close. The overwhelming force of his physical demand quieted the swirling thoughts. Bent double with his legs curled around the columns of Angel's rigid arms, mouth pressed open to Angel's rummaging tongue, Angel's cock stretching him like a fist, he could be Will again, Will whose only responsibility in the moment was to give Daddy a real good ride.
He'd taught Buffy to be good with the strap-on, but that wasn't this: nothing was this. He hadn't had it for more than a century, but when Angel pushed into him, time collapsed. It was brand new, the astonishment of submitting to him. His own body bcame strange and newhis cock, previously everything, nearly forgotten, his ass undergoing a transformation from something that was just there into the rough path to the most low dirty bliss.
"Aw, fuck. Fuck, yeah. Shit. God, you're a beast. Do it. Tear me up. Fuck."
Angel didn't speak. He rumbled against Spike's open mouth, tongue digging against his tongue with the same unvarying tempo as his cock. Splayed open, taken, Spike's pulsations turned to deep shudders; he gasped and panted and began to cry. Angel bit his mouth, blood mixed with saliva.
Trembling hard, Will was surrendered, Will was giving obeisance, giving pleasure. There was nothing else. Angelus was master and Will was his pretty toy.
Angel shifted abruptly, kneeling back, pulling Spike's ass into his lap. With no tongue in his mouth, he was free to groan when Angel's hand closed tight around his cock, thumb digging into the tip, tugging it up tight and fast so his balls stretched and his arse clenched.
"Good boy," Angel breathed. "That's my good, good, boy."
He'd forgotten some of the positions, but Angel remembered them all, and his own body remembered. Remembered, and conformed, and was comforted by this blunt invasion, by the cruel pinches to his nipples, the crushing grip that left hand-prints on his pale flesh. Angel dragged him into place by his hips, letting the rest of him fall away or follow. Dicked him for long minutes together like a girl, like a whore, bruising clench of hands on arms, thighs. Then broke the rhythm to offer his mouth for a kiss like wet velvet. Or dragged Spike's head up to his mouth to whisper wetly into his ear, "You're mine. I made you and you've never not been mine."
He came and came again and still Angel fucked him. He could no longer lift his arms to encircle Angel's neck; his legs flopped against the mattress, and it went on. Spike breathed in sobs, grateful, ecstatic, and Angel slowed into undulations that were minute and deep, cock barely moving at all now, tiny increments that made Spike's spine simmer and quake.
Big hands wrapped around his head, angling his mouth, then kissing again, tongue tracing the inside of Spike's lips with a delicacy that convulsed him. Thrusting short and hard, once, again, again, then slipping into a long sliding helpless fall.
Spike was nearly asleep as Angel drew away, limp cock trailing wet across the sheet. He was pretty in repose, boyish and lost looking; in the old days, candlelit, he'd put Angelus in mind of Ganymede.
Tempting to remain and wrap around him in sleep, but dawn had broken, and there was a possibility, pill or no pill, that Jemima might knock on Papa's door.
Out in the corridor, he paused. Heard, a room away, her breaths, deep and even, the soft tremor of her sleeping heart.
Spike would be all right, he thought sadly, even in this new trouble. With a daughter like that to love him, he'd be all right.
There were so many messages. None from her mother. Jemima made up her mind, after listening to the sixth or seventh voicemail, not to respond to any of them. Yes she knew her husband had been found brutally murdered in the square across from his club. No, she wasn't going to return to London to deal with it. He had plenty of family and colleagues who could see to him. From here, it felt like if she were to go back to England now, she'd be swallowed into a deep black maw more awful and inescapable than the cave of the Conduit.
Let the police and her few friends think what they would. She'd been about to seek a divorce. Dora, whose house she'd stayed at for the abortion, knew about itshe'd tell the others.
This was the first time in her life that she'd left any nearby mess without cleaning it up, but then there was enough mess right here for her to feel far from idle.
The hotel's toothpaste was wintergreen, and made the orange juice she took from the mini-bar taste foul. She sipped it at the window, looking out on the sunlit towers of downtown, wondering what she'd be doing now if not for this. Her whole life for the past dozen years had revolved around Milobeing with him or refusing to be with him, change and change about. Her work with the Council was just an adjunct of his, and his well, she'd used to tell herself that cataloguing demons must be as useful, in the long run, as fighting them. Even if it didn't feel that way.
Anyhow, she was no fighter.
In the bathroom, she shrugged out of the fluffy robe and regarded herself in the mirror. Her hair struck her as terriblethe color was neither here nor there, and the style, if you could call it that well, it was the same way she'd worn it since she was three, except that she'd eventually given up the pink plastic barrette on the longer side of the parting. The circles under her eyes seemed etched in. She'd always been small and delicate and paleSpike used to call her, when she was in her teens, our little china shepherdess today she was verging on scrawny. Food was the first thing to go when she was unhappy, and Milo had never much cared what he ate. When she'd loved him she'd thought of that, illogically, as being a British traitpeople of his class, anyway, regarding themselves as rather above all that, focused as they were on finer, intellectual concerns and the quality of the scotch in the cut-glass beaker. Now she recognized that indifference as part and parcel with the dearth of sensuality in his life. He was a species of Mr Casaubonyoung and handsome though he was, or any way, had beenand she was rather like Dorothea. Their courtship and marriage was all conducted in the head, with the senses nearly excluded. He'd given her books but never perfume, taken her all over the world but never paused to admire a garden or a sunset. Their bed life she curved a hand over her right breast. During those secret weeks of pregnancy, they'd plumped, the nipples newly sensitive as they rubbed inside her clothes. She'd bought new bras, one size up. Now they were small again, like always. Too small, insubstantial and somehow ignorable.
She'd always thought of herself as the plain one of the four of themSpike a marvelous sculpture cut from a piece of perfect marble, her mother with the dazzling prettiness of youth and preternatural health and the glow afforded by Spike's adoration, and Johnny ending up with the best traits of both, a little taller than their father, silky everywhere, his adolescent awkwardness promising a later breakthrough into unabashed beauty. Whereas she was tiny like Buffy, but without her strength and stance, and was saddled with Spike's nose, which was too large for her. He'd liked to show her how much she resembled her namesake, her long-deceased aunt, and she'd shared his obvious pride in that, even as she privately thought, looking at the brown picture in its silver frame, that all her aunts were homely.
Jemima made herself up now with more energy than usualnot just the red lipstick she'd bought in London as a pre-procedure pick-me-up, but eyeliner too, and lots of mascara; brushing it on, she became transfixed by the flecks of brown and blue in her hazel eyes. She wanted to look vibrant for Johnny, optimistic. He'd need that, she thought, need her to be positive.
Spike's door had the do-not-disturb sign hanging from it. She hesitated with one curled hand up to knock. Impossible to guess what he'd be like today, or ever again. Yesterday's change was too profound to understand so quickly. She didn't like the thought of losing track of him, or of him having a single unwanted moment of solitude. The soul, she imagined, must be raw and sore like a wound not yet scarred.
But if he was asleep she should wait.
She wanted to wait, but Johnny must be waiting too. At last she decided to go on to the Hyperion by herself. She'd do better with Johnny one-on-oneshe always did. Spike just tended to get him riled up, even at the best of times, which this wasn't.
Remembering the apparent pleasure with which he'd eaten crisps in the puband understanding suddenly that he'd not been at all sure he would still like them; they must've been the first food he'd tried since his turningshe stopped on the way and bought a box of donuts, imagining that the cloying scent of the sugar would somehow reassure him, like hoisting a white flag on a stick over a no-man's land.
She did not think could not think, of how he'd feasted on Milo, how he'd bitten him, tasted him, the texture and salt of his skin, the beard stubble on his neck through the sticky film of blood. The idea thrust itself into her head as she rode in the taxi through the sun-drenched streets of the city; she thrust it aside.
Even before he died, Milo did not need her. Johnny was still here, and needed her immensely. That was all she had to focus on. He must be reclaimed.
He sensed her entrance a few seconds before Rita, at the desk, shouted his name. He'd told her to leave them be when Jemima arrived, and she obligingly disappeared into the back.
Jemima came up to the deserted desk as he stepped off the stairs. When he walked up behind her, she started.
"Must you always do that?"
"Where's my brother?"
"He's he's not here. I'm sorry."
"Whathe went out?" She glanced over her shoulder at the bright day now dimly visible through the hotel doors.
"No. The thing is he didn't want to come back here. He jumped out of the car last night. He's gone."
"He jumped out of the car? When it was moving?"
"Yeahbut vampires, remember, pretty sturdy. He might've gotten a little banged up rolling down the hillside, but I'm sure he's"
"Why aren't you out looking for him? Why didn't you tell us? Does my father know?"
"I told Spike last night. And I've put the word out on him through channels, various demon communities will be keeping an eye out for him. But actually searching for him it's not so simple. This is a big city. Unless he makes a kill"
"Oh God. But he wouldn't do that, would he? That's what the soul is for"
"Theoretically? Did you kill after you first got your soul?"
He reached out and touched the donut box. "Can I take this from you?"
"They're forthey were for Johnny. Butyou could have one. Or or two, even. All you want, in fact."
Angel looked glum. "I don't eat."
"Don't you?" A little moue of disapproval flitted over her face. "Papa eats everything. Especially if it's sugary, greasy, or spicy. So I thought my brother also"
"Spike's never been like other vampires. He's always cared for things that I couldn't understand."
This seemed to disarm her. She looked up into his face, her eyes wide and curious. They were pretty eyes, fawn-like, mild, full of intelligence.
"He's always been attached to the world, people in a way that's not not the usual vampire thing. Which is why you're here. I mean, why you're alive."
"I know that. I've been told I'm a phenomenon." For a moment the anxious downtug of her mouth disappeared, and she seemed to be reliving some pleasant memory. It didn't last. "But that's silly. Anyway, it's not important. What's going to happen to Papa, now he's souled? Is he in pain?"
"I shouldn't speak for him."
As they talked, he led her gently into the conference room. He poured coffee, and offered her a donut as if they were his now.
"Will you help him?"
"Spike's strong. He won't need much help from me. Anyway, it's not the samemy soul came with a curse. His, your brother'sthey're fixed. Nothing can take them away."
"Whereas yours can be removed by a moment of perfect happiness." She sighed, breaking a donut in half. Her hands, Angel noticed, where very small and delicate, their joints whiter than the surrounding skin. He stared at the dainty movements of her fingers as she broke the donut half into half again, and then again, without bringing any of the pieces to her mouth. The halogen lighting over the conference table made her diamond engagement ring glitter. "Sometimes I've wondered what a moment of perfect happiness would feel like. I don't think I've had one since I was a little child. I know what happened after you had yours with my mother but still I think in a way you're lucky, to have known one. I hope you remember it."
This was the last thing he'd ever expected anyone to say to himespecially her. "I I do."
A brief smile lit her face with a wan light that quickly faded. "And it came to you during love-making, which must have been well, so wonderful but then maybe ever since you've been afraid to do that anymore, because you think the two are inextricably linked that must be hard for you. So many people are afraid to feel things very deeplynot that they realize they're afraid, they may ascribe it to poor taste, 'bad show,' you know. I know knew someone like that it really isn't natural though, is it? I'm realizing now it's so much better not to be too cautious with oneself." As she spoke her eyes shone, looking past him, and she touched the rings on her wedding finger. Then she shivered, and pushed the donut fragments away.
"When I forgot to be cautious, people died."
Jemima met his gaze. "I know. I've heard and read a lot about that. But no one ever seemed to think about what it was like for you. That's what makes me curious. Milo says I think too generously about" She froze, her lips a thin line, and on the table, her hands trembled.
"I'm sorry," Angel said, out of his confusion. He was a-swim in it, but not at all sure he wanted to go ashore.
"I suppose this will happen, won't it? Little gusts of forgetting, and then remembering again. Feeling bad because I didn't love him anymore. I care more that Johnny did this than that he did it to Milo. That's very bad, isn't it?"
"You shouldn't think that."
"I don't know what to think."
"You've got so much compassion," Angel said, "share it with yourself."
She blushed at that. A waft of her scentperfume, and the musk of her clean underfed bodycrossed the table to him. He had to restrain himself from drawing in a deep breath of it. It seemed shameful to experience her like that. He wished there was a way to dial down his senses, to know less.
She rose. "I should go back to Papa, then. You will contact me if you hear from my brother?"
Angel nodded. She put out her hand to shake, but before he could make up his mind whether to risk a refusal, she pulled it back. The confusion was hers now; he wasn't really sure why, but the important thing was that she go. He needed her to go.
When she was gone, he inhaled, and held it.
The ventilation system in the hospital made a low shush shush hum that only he could hear. Angel associated it with Wesley's illness, it was like some paranoid foretelling of his demise, background whispers of conspiracy against his life.
"How is it today?" Angel asked, peering into the private room before entering.
The largeness of Wes's eyes in his otherwise sunken face was always startling. Everything about Wes about so faded and diminished, but their color was still true. He wore a knitted cap Rita had made, that matched them. "It wasn't a good morning, but I feel a bit better now. I was looking forward to your visit. It's as well you didn't come yesterday, as the less said about yesterday, the better."
"Any new news from the doctors?" Angel asked, pulling a chair up to the bedside. He took Wes's hand, which felt cooler than his own.
He shook his head. "I'm still dying. By quarter-inches. What news is that?" He smiled. "It's tiresome, so let's not think about it. What's new in the world?"
"I've had visitors. That's what kept me away yesterday. Spike's in town. His son ran into Drusilla into London, and"
"Oh no. Oh dear."
"Spike brought him here to ask for help." Wes's eyes teared as he listened to Angel's account, but it was difficult to know if it was emotional or just physical. His eyes were so often moist and rheumy. " so he's run off, and could be well on his way back to Drusilla for all we know."
"Souls. It hardly seems possible."
"The Powers can be capricious," Angel said. "A soul certainly wasn't what Spike was asking forneither for his kid or himself. But we know how these things always go. You walk in wanting one thing, and walk out with your ass on backwards."
"Extraordinary. How does that make you feel? William the Bloody with a soul."
"He hasn't been the Bloody in decades now."
"Which is neither here nor there. How does it make you feel?"
Angel shrugged. "I don't know. It doesn't really. Well, there's a little"
"Envy?" Wes supplied. "That his is fixed, while yours isn't? Not a punishment"
"I don't think he sees it that way."
"How does he see it?"
"He's upset. Disoriented."
"She doesn't know yet. About any of this. She's battling something big, on another plane, incommunicado."
"Terrible, that one's children should die before one. Although I suppose Spike couldn't have expected anything else."
"His daughter is here. She's she's good with him. She'll take care of him."
"Ah, the daughter. What's she like?"
Nothing, not even the rain, has such small hands. "She's not like Buffy, if that's what you're wondering."
"No?" Wes waited, but when Angel didn't fill the moment, he smiled. "Perhaps that's as well. One Buffy is enough."
"There could only be one."
"Difficult to imagine her as a mother. Of course, it's been such a long time since I've seen her."
A nurse came in then, warning of the imminent approach of doctors.
"I was a sore subject yesterday," Wes said, "so now they must descend upon me en masse."
"Do you want me to stay?"
Wes appeared to ponder, but Angel thought it was only for politeness' sake. He looked so tired. "Gather more to tell me, and come back in a day or two. I'll look forward to hearing about all this."
Angel wanted to lean in close, to kiss the papery cheek above the peppering of beard stubble. But it wasn't something they did, at least, not yet. "I'll keep you apprised."
Wes nodded. "A story is something to go forward on."
In the next street a dog barked. Her dream skittered away like a mouse into a corner. She rolled over in bed, her braid catching in her mouth, settling against a cooler spot on the pillow. In the unshaded windows, dawn was a grey hint.
Below them, she heard a porch-board creak.
Followed by a slow pacing, up, back. She listened to it. It paused by each of the four downstairs windows. Someone peering in.
She rose, dislodging two cats, and went to the window. She couldn't see anything from there, but continued to listen, her heart beginning to race. Slow steady tread, up, down. The sky was lightening, thick clouds moving. At the apex of a hill, she had a broad view of the sloped tiers of houses, the city glittering beyond, and an enormous amount of sky.
The person on the porch continued to move about slowly. She grabbed up a robe and left the room.
As she came off the stairs she heard the tapping. A finger against the door's glass pane.
Why didn't they knock properly, whoever it was, or ring the very obvious doorbell?
She paused in the foyer, wondering if she'd regret just going to the door. One of the cats who'd followed her down twined around her ankles, mrrring.
The tapping went on. She'd almost made up her mind to grab the fireplace poker before investigating any further when she heard the voicebarely louder than a harsh whisper. "Auntie Tara? Auntie Taralet me in!"
She put aside the curtain, then seeing who was there, unlocked the door and opened it a few inches. "Johnny? What are you doing here? Oh mywhat's happened to you?"
"I've been hurt. Please let me in." He made no gesture towards the sliver of opening, but kept glancing over his shoulder at the tall bushes surrounding the porch. His face was a mass of bruises, clothes torn and stained with blood.
She could feel the presences he was so wary of; some sort of demons, half-incorporeal, haunting the shadows off the porch.
She felt them, but she was aware of something else too.
"I'm so sorry this has happened to you, verybut I don't think I can let you into my house."
"Auntie TaraI wouldn't hurt youplease, pleaseit's almost dawn, I don't have time to go anywhere else. I'm afraid."
"Johnny, you know I can't. You're a vampire." As she said the word, it hit her, and tears sprang to her eyes. He made no threatening gesture, just stood there, hunted, haunted, eyes pleading.
"Auntie TaraI have a soul."
"Oh Johnny. How can I believe a word you say? I don't want to die like that."
"I promise it's true. I swear! I've loved you all my life, you know that. I'm in so much trouble now, but I knew you'd help me. Papa tried to trade himself for my life, but instead we both got souls, and I ran away, I was angry, I didn't want his helpbut I do now! I need help now. Please. Those things chasing methey don't care if the sun comes up. They'll come up here and kill me when I can't run."
The demons' hunger, their patience, tingled in her fingertips. She wished she could be aware of his soul as she was aware of these other magical things. But it wasn't so simple as that.
The sky was brightening. He looked so lost.
"On my honor, I won't hurt you," he said. "Thosethingshave been on my tail sinceplease don't be afraid of me, please"
Tara opened the door. "Come in. Quick, before I change my mind."
She bolted the door again, although she knew the demons couldn't enter. His presence at her back gave her goosebumps. She took a deep breath as she turned to him, thinking this might be her last moment, that she was turning to face her death.
But his hands still dangled at his sides, and he was still just Johnny, battered and bruised, his lower lip trembling.
"AuntieI'm sorryI'm sorry, I really am"
She opened her arms; he went into them, sobbing. He smelled of dried blood and gravel. The shape of him was unchanged, but when she felt the cool stillness of his slender body, her breath hitched. She couldn't think of a sadder thing to happen to one of Buffy's children.
"Come into the kitchen. I have nothing for you to eat, but I'll make tea. I can go out in a little while and buy some blood."
"I'm hungry," he said, following her with bent head. "I tried to feed, but I couldn't. Everything's all fucked up. I fucked it up. I'm lost. I'm just lost."
"Sit down and tell me about it."
He awoke feeling like William. The way William would come to in the morning, have a few moment's peace in the warm bed before the coughing started and the world slammed down on him againanxiety about the state of his lungs, and how he could keep his mother and himself if they worsened, and whether he dared marry and if so, how he could ever, on what they paid him at the bank, make Miss Addams an offer she'd accept.
He'd lie there in the cold gloomy room, willing himself not to touch his morning erection, thinking of schemes, bargaining with God.
Spike could feel William inside, his sense of self, his way of looking at things, getting stronger like tea infusing in a hot pot. William's intense and complicated and guilt-ridden feelings, coming out of the recesses he'd shoved them into so long ago. So goddamn many feelings. In becoming a vampire, he'd lost, not the intensity of his feelings, but that awful habit of combing through them endlessly, writing them down, pondering and praying over them. William was never sure of anything until he'd thought it over at every angle for days. And at the same time, he was sure of all sorts of intensely stupid things that turned out not to be true at all. All the middle-class Victorian genteelisms.
And now all that was back in him, like it had never gone away.
Spike stretched. The big bed smelled of sex, but Angel couldn't leave a warm patch when he rose any more than he could. Anyway, he'd been gone for hours.
His kindness in all this wasn't what he'd expected. The old man had changed, mellowed. Spike's cock stirred at the memory of Angel in the bed with him, on top of him. He'd done the trick, driving into him and driving out everything elsethe queasy feeling that came with the blasted soul, and the despair that after he'd done his utmost, the boy was no better off than before.
He fisted himself, stroked hard; his hand didn't seem big enough now, not in contrast to sire's. Christ, he still wanted him. Missed the days when Angelus ran his existence, and he'd had no worries and no conscience, could love and hate as he pleased.
A knock at the door.
"Gi' us a minute, Pet!" He scrambled up and into the bathroom, quick wash of face and hands and groin, jumped into his jeans and yesterday's shirt before opening the door.
"How do you feel, Papa?"
"Got a soul, pet, not the flu."
She pouted. "You know what I mean."
"Glad you want to look after me, love, but don't overdo it."
"I just want to understand."
"Soon's I understand it, I'll fill you in. Meanwhile, Angel's still the expert."
"I was with him before. He told me about Johnny. He lost him."
"Angel's done more'n I ever thought he would. Not blaming him for the boy bailing."
"I'm not blaming him or anyone. I think if I started, I'd be blaming us all." She shook her head. "I'm just I'm overwhelmed. Last week, our lives were one thing and now they're completely different." She gave him a pleading look. "Are you overwhelmed?"
"Yeah, I am."
This would've been the moment, ordinarily, to embrace, but they stood apart, regarding each other. Spike was wary. Didn't want her to know what he'd done with Angel, or to start asking him a lot of questions about the soul. Close as they were, there were a lot of things he didn't want her to know about him. If he was going to confide in anyone, it would be Angel. Or Buffy. Except she'd never seemed farther off from him than since the days of their initial antagonism.
What are you going to do now?" she asked.
"Dunno. Thinkin' I might stay on here a bit, in L.A. Confab with Angel. Least while your mum's off busy."
She wandered up and down, leaving a trail in the nap of the thick carpeting with her high-heeled shoes. "You've barely said a word about her, all this time."
"Been focused on your brother."
"It's not just that, though. Why did she go on that mission without you? You've quarreled."
"We have, a bit."
"I knew it." She stopped by the window, drooping. "Oh God."
Spike went to her, drew her around by the shoulders. "Don't worry about that. It's not so bad. Anyway, it's just as well she left me behind, or else you'd have had to deal with all this on your own. 'Course now your brother's scarpered, guess you're at a loose end."
"I've been at a loose end for a long time. I was at a loose end when I came to London in the first place."
"What do you want to do now?"
"I have to go to Milo's funeral. And there's so much clearing up to do. If I get on a late flight tonight, I can make it in time."
"Don't go to the bloody funeral unless you want to."
"I've had six different messages just from Milo's sister. He is was still my husband. It would seem so odd if I didn't show. After that, I can go"
"I don't know."
"Come back here. Have a bit of a holiday."
"None of us is in a holiday mood, yeah, but you deserve a rest, bit of r'n'r. Lie in the sun, buy yourself some new clobber. Eat up a bit. You've gotten so thin. Want to be ready when your mum comes back an' we break it to her."
"That'll be the second wave."
"Yeah." He tucked a lock of hair behind her ear. "And I need you. So come right back after the funeral. Don't keep me waiting. S'time now for family. An' Milo's lot aren't yours."
She smiled then, and squeezed his hand. "Papa, you're so good."
Good, yeah. He was already thinking about the binge he could start on as soon as she was out of the way.
Asleep, he looked like any young man tired out from some traumatic event. His face in repose was pretty, the mouth full and pouting, brows feathery, damp hair curling as it dried. He was clean now, and the cuts and bruises were already so much less that Tara could see they'd be gone altogether by time he awoke.
Sitting on the side of the guest bed, her hand still wrapped in his, Tara remembered all the many times she'd put him down for the night when he was small, or chased him upstairs, laughing and scolding, as he got older. Buffy had sent him off to her so often throughout his childhoodhe'd even lived with her for almost the whole of a school year that time the warlock Maronas was loose in Sunnydalethat she felt a propriety in him. She'd never wanted children of her own, but was glad to have so much of Johnny. He'd been glad of her too; his feelings about his parents were always fraught and complicated, but she was just Auntie; she knew he pondered her inner life not at all, but accepted her devotion just as his due. There was something natural and restful in this for both of them. He talked to her about the loneliness and conflict he felt when he was with his parents (although she always sensed there was far far more to his troubled ideas than he ever articulated), and seemed glad of the respite his visits afforded him from these confusing storms of feeling.
He was even more confused now, wild with remorse one moment, defiant and self-rationalizing the next. His confession of his kills, wept into her knees as he knelt before her in the kitchen, shook her more than she was willing to show. Now that he was sleeping, she looked into his sweet face and allowed herself to feel the horror of it. His hand in hers was tepid and still. She moved her own away, gently lest she wake him. He was as still as death.
A soul of course undid nothing; it only put in a conscience to torment the demon forever. It wasn't what Spike had sought, which alone was explanation enough of its granting. She knew enough about the ways of the Powers to understand that, just as she knew enough about Spike's fierce paternal love to see he could've done nothing else but what he had, consequences be damned.
That's what it was, a damnation here on earth. She wondered how he was handling it himself.
Time to find out. Back in the kitchen, she placed a call.
When Spike turned up weaving across the Hyperion lobby with an open magnum of Dom in hand, he was already drunk.
"Celebrate!" he crowed when Angel appeared on the balcony above. "Boy's turned up safe at his auntie's."
"Tara. Did you ever know Tara? Lovely thing she is, second mother to him. To all of us. Have a drink." He waved the bottle up at Angel. "Everybody have a drink. Where's your little minion-people? Enough for them, too."
"No one else's here right now. Come upstairs. Where's Jeyour girl?"
"My girl my girl my girl's gone off an' left me all on my lonesome. Little cunt. Knew I'd know what she was up to, an' did it anyhow. Bitch. Always was a bitch."
"C'mon, Spike, don't do that." Angel lifted the bottle from his hand, reached to steady him as he nearly stumbled at the top of the stairs.
"Know what she does? Rank little bitch she is, comes to me when she's on the rag, all pouty an' sly, tryin' to tempt me to forget what she did to me. Knows I can't resist that when she offers it. You had her, great gouts of slayer blood from her pretty neck, I know that. But never had that, did you? Swear to you, Angelus, nothin' in this unlife's sweeter than sippin' the stuff straight from slayer's little cooze. Was my regular monthly treat. Christ, when I suck it out of her, she comes like a"
"Spike, shut the fuck up. You don't want to talk about her that way. Especially not to me."
He reared around. "Why not to you? You're only one who knows what I'm bloody talkin' about. How the touch of her, smell of her, look on her face, just kills you. It kills you. You know what that is. She killed you 'fore she ever killed me."
"I know. I know. But don't talk about it. Anyway, I didn't ask you about her. It was Jemima."
"Oh. You said, 'your girl,' and you know that's what she isBuffy. S'my girl. Lot longer than she was yours, I'll thank you to remember. Or that dirty bastard Saleem with his cheap good looks an' his levitation tricks."
"I'm asking about Jemima," Angel said, leading him towards his suite, holding the champagne out of reach. "Isn't she with you?"
"Nah, went to her poxy husband's poxy funeral. Be back here in three days. Around the time Tara'll bring the boy down to us. Said she wanted to keep him a bit, cosset him. She's always been good at that. Maybe deliver him in some fit state to teach him a thing or two."
"Keep him where? Where is he?"
"San Francisco. She said he came to her door near dawn, bunch of Z'Pilten demons on his tail, fagged out an' scared. Nearly didn't let him in on account of not trusting his word, but it's all right."
"The funeral, Spike. Is there anybody there to stand by her? I got the impression she wasn't so close to the husband's family."
"Nah, but she's stronger than she looks. An' when she comes back, make sure she has a bit of pleasure. Put her out in the sun for a bit, yeah, with something to drink that's got a parasol in it. Good for what ails her." As he spoke Spike was trying to get at the champagne bottle. Wrestling him off was easy, he was loose and bendy and harmless, like a life-size Gumby, but if he was let to drink anymore, the little flashes of anger would turn into a full-force gale of bitterness.
He tipped him into a chair, then went to pour out a mug of coffee.
When he came back with it, Spike was sprawled, arms and legs thrown out, head tipped back to expose his throat. Eyes closed, an ethereal little smile on his lips.
He could well smile. His son, unlike Connor who was gone forever, might be over the worst. His daughter would soon come back to his side. And Buffy too Angel couldn't imagine her anymore without Spike. He'd been her partner all of her adult life. Nothing was going to alter that, whatever vagaries interceded.
Now that he had a soul, Spike was just that much more fitted to her, in all the ways he himself was unfitted, either for Buffy or any other woman. The trouble between them would pass away and be forgotten, or if not forgotten, as unimportant in their everlasting now as the trouble he'd made for her himself.
"Drink this and sober up."
Spike's eyes opened. Lazy and blue above that little smirk, fixed on his. He made no move to take the mug. "Don't want to be sober. You ought to be drunk."
"I don't go in for that much anymore." Angel set the coffee on the wide chair arm.
Spike's hand snaked up and grabbed a fistful of his sweater collar, pulled him in close. "Kiss me, then. Know you've a taste for that."
Angel's mouth hovered next to Spike's; he smelled the sweet champagne on his breath, and beneath that the rising aroma of desire. The first time, the night he got here, it made sense. Spike was in a passion of need; he gave. And last night well, that was about Spike's need too, for the deep luxury of subservience. But now well, Spike was just lazy. Opening his pretty mouth for the plum to drop into.
And three times would start to feel like habit. Angel couldn't afford to form a habit for this. Not when it would be taken away so quickly, make the nights that followed all the blanker. He yanked free, moved away.
"Nothing least bit gladsome in you," Spike said, struggling to his feet, still sounding amiable and tiddly.
"No." He went back to the kitchen, poured coffee for himself.
When he turned, Spike was right there. Taking hold of his face, he pulled it down, kissed his mouth with stubborn softness.
He smiled as he drew back, looked into Angel's eyes. His own were mild, curious, friendly. He wasn't used to seeing Spike like that. Almost felt voyeuristic to see that expression. It must be one that he usually kept only for Buffy, or for the girl.
She had that look too. In fact, they were remarkably alike at this moment. He pictured her, small and tired, flying back alone to the cold north of England, to attend the funeral of a husband she didn't love, done in by a brother she did. Wished he could have somehow spared her that, even as he suspected himself of sacrilege for thinking of her at all. She was none of his business. She was not part of his life.
None of them were, Buffy's little family. This was only temporary. Could only be temporary.
"Have you told Jemima? About the boy?"
"Yeah. Caught her on the phone before she took off."
"They don't know, do they? The Council. About how it happened."
"Don't think so. She won't tell them." Spike was still smiling, but it wasn't at anything, it was a residual smile. It faded now. "Any luck, they'll never find out. Wouldn't want Jemmie to have any trouble."
"No," Angel said. "That would be bad." He imagined her in struggle with the Council, shadowy men in dark shadowy rooms. Accusations and reprisals.
"You'll help us, yeah?" Spike's smile was gone as if it had never been. Head held on one side, querulous, anxious. "He's gonna get lost if there's no one to guide him. Can't be me. Blind leading the blind. You're the one's knows how to be this. Vampire with a soul."
"An' you're the head of the Family. It was always you, even when Darla was alive. S'you more than ever now."
"I didn't think you gave that any thought these days."
"Can push it from your mind, but a fact's a fact, ain't it? We're order of Aurelius, an' always will be. So's the boy, now."
"He's your brother, being Dru's get."
"Yeah." A snort of bitter laughter from Spike, as he opened and slammed the kitchen cabinets. "She gets 'em and leaves you to bring 'em up. Need you to bring him up, Angel."
"I can't force him to stay."
"Your ways'll be different, yeah, from what they were." Spike laughed again, slipping into game face. "Remember how you held me down an' yanked out my fangs. How I howled. Made me starve 'til they grew back. How many times did you do that? Was more'n once."
"You told your son about it. He mentioned it in the car, before he jumped out."
Spike frowned. "Don't recall telling him, but Dru might've. Remember her being quite keen on my pain at the time. She chortled an' danced while you did it, an afterwards wanted to feed me tea out of that dolls' toy set she had. God, she'd be so wet whenever you were torturin' me, could smell it all over the house. Little minx as she was." Spike stood still, focused on him again. "Do you think about her?"
"Sometimes. Sometimes I can't help it. She she was my worst abomination."
"Is that why you've let her be all these years? You could've tracked her downwhen you were with that law firm, could've found any little vamp on the planet you wanted to put your finger on, an' squashed 'em like a bug. Why didn't you?"
Angel growled. "Why didn't I have you dusted? Could've done that too. It wasn't because I thought you were so good for Buffy."
"I was out of the killing fields then, at least. She"
"She kept herself out of my way. I had plenty in my way to worry about without looking for trouble. Why didn't you track her down? Neither of us wants to think about staking her. She's part of us. She was your mistress. And mine."
Spike quirked a sorry grin. "Family."
"And now my son's part of the bloody family too. An' we'll be damn lucky his mother doesn't stake the lot of us when she finds out."
"Came back from the fight stinkin' of him. She couldn't give me any good reason. An' it wasn't just the one time. Would've been bad enough, if she'd jumped his bones once in the heat of the moment, eve of battle. Could've understood that in a way. But she was with him for weeks, preparin' for the big show. Didn't communicate with me, didn't think of me."
"Why weren't you there?"
"Was workin' the second front, with the other slayer an' Willow. This thing was enormous, took everything we could throw at it an' used it against usit fed off magic. Willow's best just made it stronger. This Saleem was the only one had the right sort of mojo to sap its strength. Had to combine with Buffymysticallyto make it happen. Required weeks of preparation, ritual. I got that. But didn't require her to fuck him every way possible. That little addition was all her own."
Angel sipped from the bottlenot the champagne, but a fifth of Jack he'd dug out of the back of a cabinetand passed it back to Spike. They sat at right angles; Spike on the sofa, Angel perched on the arm.
"You say he was powerful. Maybe he made it a condition her, uh cooperating with him, in, uh what he wanted."
"Hoped it might just be that. But no. Apparently the guy was a celibate. He was all about the mysticism. She seduced him."
Angel glanced around. "How do you know?"
"She fucking told me. She told me all about it. Didn't pretend it hadn't happened. Didn't pretend he forced her, coerced her, played mind-games on her. No, she admitted it. She wanted him."
"Well maybe she she is a slayer. They're not like regular women. They have larger, uh needs."
"No really, do they? I had no fucking clue."
"I'm just saying"
"I keep her satisfied. Me. For thirty years I have seen to her every single night. Every single goddamn night I give that woman what she needs. What we both need. I make her plead, I make her scream, I make her sing. That's what I do. I know Buffy, like no one else. I take care of her."
"Thirty years, it's a long time."
"I was faithful to Dru for almost four times as long."
"I know, Spike. I meant, for her. Thirty years she never thought she'd see thirty. Now she's fifty, and all that time's been with you."
"What're you saying? Don't tell me if it was you instead of me that you'd be okay with this."
Angel sighed. "No. I'm just trying"
"To get me to forgive her. Don't you think I tried? Christ, Angel, you don't know what it's been like with her all this time. I meanit's been bloody fucking great, she's everything I always wanted, an' I love her like blazes. But she can be an ornery moody little cuntyou know. She takes everything out on me. Gets into these states where she doesn't want to tell me what she's feeling. Or she flies into rages and hits me to make herself feel better. Always swears she's changed and won't do it anymore, and for a long while she holds to it, but ultimately she is what she is, an' I get that, I can absorb it. She's forgiven me for plenty toojust welcoming me into her life is biggest act of forgiveness there could be. But this was different. She didn't just give her body to another man. She withdrew"
"her attention from you. Is that it, Spike? And when you're not the most important thing to her, you feel like you've ceased to exist."
"Fucking hell. Since when are you so smart?"
"Never understood that. How'd Darla conceive? We're all dead, shouldn't have happened."
"That's something we never found out." Angel stared at the bottle, nearly empty now, as Spike passed it back to him. They were both loose and floating, bitterness bypassed in favor of a frankness they'd never had before. He'd slid off the couch arm and was sitting beside Spike now, both wide-legged and heavy-headed. He'd never have imagined it could be so good, talking to him. All their history mysteriously translated into a well of fellow-feeling, comprehension. "But you should've seen her. When she got big, before he was born, the most astonishing thing happened. His soul affected her. She loved him, she had this brief period of just loving the kid and wanting him to be all right. And she knew it wouldn't last, that once he was free of her body she'd be feral again, and it made her so sad."
"What happened to her? I mean, I know she got dusted, but who did it?"
"She did. She drove the stake into her own heart, so Connor could be born."
"He was the sweetest little thing. Out of my despair, her hatred, our two undead bodies we made this little morsel of sweetness."
"They don't last," Spike said, tipping the bottle back, swallowing the last drop. He let it slip from his fingers to thud onto the carpet. "Good things don't."
"No. Usually not." Angel glanced around at the desk, where he still kept some of Connor's baby pictures propped in silver frames. He needed them to remember that he'd been real. To get back again for a slim minute the sense memory of holding that warm squirmy little body, his milky smell and avid gaze. He'd only had that to enjoy for a few weeks, and afterwards there'd been no joy at all. "But not always. Your Je" He would've blushed if he could, caught out in something incriminating.
Luckily Spike didn't notice. "Here's other thing I don't understand. Had your son, looked after him that short time, an' he was a miracle, he was a delight to you. I know how that is. Had plenty of moments of perfect happiness off my kiddies. So how'd you keep your soul?"
"I don't know. I've wondered that myself. He made me happy, happier thanthan almost anything else ever did. But I was never not anxious for him. Maybe that's why."
"Anxious, yeah. Think I wasn't anxious enough, lot of the time. FuckI drove Johnny right off the edge. Buffy did too, but I'm not blamin' her so much as myself. He always had to compete with his sister for my attention, and later on, when he knew what I was, it threw him. He half didn't believe it, an' the other half was disgusted by it. He felt like a changeling. Like the odd one out. An' he was. We didn't give him what he needed. Too wrapped up in each other, an' the mission. Jemmie mothered him, an' Tara, and Dawn sometimes too. Old Rupes treated him like a son, and Xander cared for him. But it wasn't for them to do our job with the kid, was it?" He paused, drawing figures on his knee with a fingertip. "Wonder sometimes if he'd have been better off if we'd let his father take him. Williamthe other William, whatever the fuck he was. Wanted him so bad. Had just as much right to him as we did."
"You can't know what will be better or worse. You can't know what's going to happen."
"Was like a fucking nightmare, meeting myself that way. Can you imagine it? Having young Liam suddenly trundled out before you? I wanted to kill him. Almost did, in fact. Not because he was layin' claim to Buffy, but just because he was. Made me feel all unquiet inside. An' after he'd gone there was the boy, an' he was like me, and I didn't feel didn't feel the same as I did about Jemmie. Tried to, but there's some things you can't force."
Angel lifted a handit was so heavy, a slab of meatand touched Spike's face. "You loved your own Da, didn't you?"
"Yeah. Yeah, was all right, he was."
"I murdered mine."
"I know. Think Johnny wanted to do the same to me. Probably still does. Can't imagine what he's thinking now. Gone an' done this stupid thing an' it's forever. Not thankin' me for the soul, that's for sure. Maybe I should've staked him. What do you think?"
"Spikedon't ask me that. How can I"
Angel's hand still cupped his face; Spike leaned into the touch. Covered the hand with his own, turned and pressed a kiss into the palm. The skin burned, warmth flooding up his arm.
He yanked Spike to him, mouth open against his mouth, kisses that Spike returned without resistance, crawling up to straddle his lap.
So much for resolve.
"This can't be anything that'll go on, we both know that," Angel said.
"But doesn't mean it can't be anything. You an' me got a couple of days here, to deal with each other. Talk."
"We're talking," Angel said, snugging him closer, nipping at his neck.
"We are. Like we never did. Feel like I never really knew you at all. Want to know you now."
Angel pulled him in, and Spike moved at the same time, so he couldn't tell which of them initiated it, only that their arms were wrapped around each other, open mouths pressed together in hungry curious exchange. He'd had Spike twice in the last three days but still this felt brand new, made him tremble all over like a virgin undone by anticipation.
There was no better kisser than Spike. And he couldn't take any of the credit for teaching him. Five minutes of it and Spike had him on the point of tears. No one had kissed him for so many years, let alone so generously.
It reminded him of Buffy. And that almost made him tear away.
Spike seemed to be reading his mind. He pulled back a little, his hands holding Angel's face. "You got any idea how bloody rare it is, perfect happiness? Why d'you deprive yourself of this?"
"It's not what I'm here for."
"S'not what any of us are here for, but it makes the bein' here bearable." Spike kissed him again. Whispered against his ear. "Gonna suck you off now."
"Not yet," Angel breathed.
"Kiss you some more?" His smile was all melting sweetness. Angel felt Spike was seeing something he'd never seen, because he'd never allowed him to see it, and Spike, the Spike he remembered, wouldn't have taken it on board even if he had. It was true, they'd both changed, and didn't know each other any more, at the same time that there was a solid pavement between them of their mutual experience, their blood bond that made them as familiar and easy as twins. Extraordinary thing that the merely human couldn't be expected to understand. How all that old pain and antagonism could distill itself into this smoothness.
He'd forgotten, forgotten how good it could be. Not since Buffy had he kissed like this, kissing for nothing except kisses, all the things he couldn't say and do throttled back and concentrated in lips and tongue, in the squeeze of his arms around her. Spike leaned into him, bulge against bulge, pinned his arms against the sofa back. Made love to his mouth like it was a sex, like he could get him off with only that.
Angel felt like he'd pried apart his breast bone, reached into his chest. With a groan, he pushed him off.
He wanted to cry out that this was too hard, that two days of intimacy was worse than none at all, that if his curse was to be alone, then he must be alone, no glimmers of light in the dark, snatches of music in the silence. Spike was only a tourist in his solitude, he'd exit this crisis, back to his rich life, and Angel would remain here forever. Wes would be dead and his team would eddy around him, not really understanding him, not allowed to get too close, and that was his life, tasked to make life safe for everybody else.
He should get up and send Spike back to his fancy penthouse hotel suite.
"She's going to come back to you. You know she will. Whatever came between you, that was before this thing happened to your boy. How can it be important anymore? Of course you'll pull together."
Spike appeared to ponder this, like it was some kind of reasonable proposal put to him. Angel stared at him, and throbbed.
"It'll be worse for me after," Angel whispered.
Spike squinted, regarding him. His expression was soft, sympathetic. "Get that, yeah, but they say the things you regret the most are the ones you don't do. We got our couple of days here, where it's just us. Still, you want to stop this, we'll stop."
Angel got to his feet, ran his hands through his hair. Spike watched him, unmoving.
"Get naked. I want you in my bed."
"This's what you need," Spike murmured, gnawing at Angel's chest, "not a girl you're gonna get all googly-eyed an' lovey over, but some nice boy who'll bite you back an' roll over for you too. Give you a bit of peace of mind, but not too much of that dangerous perfection, yeah?" Smiling up at him, Spike might've been that boy. "You like that, don't you? Always did like to ravish a comely lad."
"Yeah." Angel caught his head, pulled him in for more kissing, but Spike was being chatty.
"An' you really should get fucked once in a while. There's nothing like it to release the tension. Bit of cock up the bum somehow pushes that all important reset button."
"Does it? And where've you been getting that all this time?"
"Taught Buffy how to do me, an' she's a tiger. Still, the proportion's wrongI'm taller'n she is."
Angel sat up suddenly. "Uhdizzy now. Not sure I can process"
Spike laughed, but not merrily. "There's almost nothing that woman can't do if she puts her mindor her something elseinto it." His smile faded. "Didn't mean to talk about her now."
"Me neither." Angel threaded his fingers into Spike's hair, tugged him against his mouth.
"'Cept I miss her." He looked into Angel's eyes. "Do you ever miss her?"
"That's more than I can afford."
"Yeah. I know. You had to leave her, that was your path. That's the difference 'tween you an' me. Only path I ever had that wasn't straight to hell was at her side."
"You still have it. You always will. She loves you."
"I don't know."
"I do. She talks to me sometimes, Spike."
"Recently she was worried about her longevity. She wanted to know how I handle it."
"She didn't say anything to me."
"Worried about bein' trapped with me for eternity, wasn't that it?"
"I reminded her that you'd always love her, that you took good care of her and that that would never change."
Spike stared into him, lips parted, head tilted. "Bloody hell," he whispered, "did you really tell her that?"
"I think she was comforted. She sounded that way. She was so far off. She always is."
Spike nodded. "Sometimes even in my arms."
Spike would be far off too, soon, but not right now. Angel pulled him into his lap, stroked the long lines of his back, cupped the sharp shoulder blades in his hands. Spike's kisses resumed, the kisses that were like fucking, his hand wrapping around their cocks, rubbing the slick heads together.
"Just like this," Angel said. "I want you just like this."
Spike nodded. His smile was small and private. He brought Angel's fingers to his mouth, swallowed them in, sucked on them, made them wet. Rose up on his knees astride Angel's lap, arching when Angel pushed the fingers inside him, hissing as they stretched him. He grinned as he pushed himself down onto Angel's cock. Stared into his eyes, put his tongue out to lick at Angel's mouth.
"You're always so tight for me," Angel said. "Always tight like the first time."
"You'd have staked me, wouldn't you, if I hadn't surprised you by being such a prize piece. You think I didn't realize that, but I knew."
"Yeah. Didn't think I'd have any use for you, but you turned out better than you looked Christ, you change, but your arse doesn't. Fuck yourself on me."
Spike's own cock brushed Angel's skin as he writhed on him, leaving wet curlicues on his stomach. "This's a good position, can suck face like movie stars while we do it."
"There was no boy I liked better than you," Angel said.
"Really?" Spike grinned. "There were so many."
"None like my saucy Will." He ground his mouth against Spike's, thrusting up into him. Eyes closed, he tried to imagine how they'd look together, if they could have the benefit of a mirror. Spike all white, the lines of him like licks of flame. He imagined himself dark by contrast, dark and heavy like something carved from rare rich wood. Spanned Spike's waist in his hands and worked him, like he was nearly weightless. His arms rested on Angel's shoulders, and he'd left off kissing, was just gazing at him with a soft mindless expression, humid-eyed, involved.
Something about this, the tight sheath he rode into, the narrow body he held, brought up a flash of memory. Her. He'd had her like this that night, it was the last thing, Buffy on top, sore and unsure of herself but wanting more. God, you're stretching me, she'd said, I think I can feel you up against my heart, looking down at him with uneasy awe. He'd held her waist, and then when she'd sunk down all the way, her hands, held them lightly up as if she was balancing on some high edge.
Which she was. It was in that moment, seeing her atop him, experiencing the concentrated strength and trust and love in her small yielding body, that perfect happiness bloomed.
"Don't go," Spike said.
"Sssh. Here." Spike made a two-fingered gesture, from Angel's eyes to his. "See me."
Spike gave himself so prettily, all lissome raunchy grace, which might've been almost distasteful except that it came so naturally, it was the opposite of performance. He got lost in sex, no inhibitions, no calculation. Complete absorption. Angel envied even as he followed him. He'd never been that way. Even as Angelus, there was no debauch in which he hadn't kept a corner of his mind focused on detached observation, judgement, disdain. Of himself as well as everything else.
Both Angelus and William the Bloody had permitted themselves everything. But Angelus loved nothing and no-one, while Spike, even in the midst of his worst carnage, loved the world. He loved his very victims for the pleasure they gave him.
He said this to Spike, sprawled at boneless ease beside him. Spike raised his head to squint at him. "You were a sick fuck an' I was another."
"Yeah, but you were always a person. You understood people, you related. I try to, but"
"What is this? You just boned me senseless, an' you're brooding again already? Jesus Christ, you think too much. Gonna fuck you now. Show me your arse."
Angel turned over. Spike gave him two sharp slaps on each cheek. "There, that make you feel better? Or do you want me to chase you round the suite with a riding crop, like you used to do to me? Bloody hell, could've lived without that."
To his surprise, Angel laughed. Spike hit him again, two stinging blows, but followed them immediately with a caress, tracing the curve of Angel's ass with the flat of his palm, coaxing him with little taps up onto his knees. Then Spike's hand passed between his thighs, grasping his ballsac, as his tongue swarmed into him. Angel groaned aloud, jerking forward and back.
"God yeah, you need this. Why didn't you let him do this to you?"
"Him? Him who?"
"Wyndham-Pryce? Is that his name? Dunno how you can have it off regularly with a man an' not turn an' turn about."
" Wes and I we weren't lovers."
"Could've sworn I heard that somewhere. Who from, now was Willow. Years ago. Came back from spendin' some time here, said you were playin' it close to the vest, but it was so obvious, bein' around you both."
Angel buried his face in the pillow. His knees trembled, he wanted to weep out his throttled desire, ideas stymied before they could ever be mentioned. The things you regret the most are the ones you don't do.
"Fuck me, Spike. I need it."
"Lemme see you. Gonna do this eye-to-eye."
When he rolled over to confront him, Angel wasn't sure what he saw in Spike's face. Not anything as simple as pity, but a pensiveness that embarrassed him. To cover for it he reached for him, pulled him in to mingle mouths. This close, maybe Spike wouldn't see what was going on inside him, how the mention of Wesley opened up some gash he'd been sure was closed.
Sometimes the amount of past he had was nearly unbearable.
Spike drew back. "Listen to me. Want you to let go. I'm gonna fuck you 'til you come, an' get up an' come again, however long that takes. An' I don't care whose name you call when you get there."
Spike lifted his legs and went into him.
"Keep tellin' you, there's no reason you shouldn't have a lover. You know you're not gonna have a repeat ofof what happened before. Might be you'd be even better if you had someone to unwind with, let off the tension."
"Who am I going to have, Spike? Some human? No one really wants a relationship with an immortal being. It's too disturbing for them, knowing they'll age year by year and I never will. Especially in this town, where everyone's so paranoid about how old they look. And I can't be with another demon, because trying to love something without a soul ... well, that's too disturbing for me."
"So that's the real reason you've held off?"
"I guess so. One of them. The risk of hurting someone elseI don't mean as Angelus, I mean, disappointing someone, breaking another heartit's too great. Like I told youdon't feel it's what I'm supposed to do."
In the bad old days, Angelus could fuck and eat half a dozen whores in a night. But now he wasn't interested in anything less than real love, and was terrified of failing at it. How the mighty had ... altered.
Spike dropped a kiss on his shoulder. "I didn't know when I got into it with her that Buffy would be immortal. Still don't know that she is. Could be that she'll wake up one day soon an' find all the years caught up with her, an' crumble into nothin' in an hour. Point is, I loved her an' I wanted what I could have with her, even though we all thought her life expectancy was likely to be months instead of years. I just wanted every possible second I could snatch with her. Wanted to shore up all the memories I could."
"You love her so much. Don't pretend you don't. You'll never leave her. You'll always forgive her."
He didn't feel ready to hear this. "Look, I'm sayin'"
"Spike, there's no one I feel that way about."
"I'm sayin', though, let it happen. If anyone comes along. Lord knows, if I deserve to be loved, you deserve it even more. Not that deservin' has anything to do with it, or most of us would go wanting."
"I'll think about it."
"Oh yeah ... s'lovely ... fuck yeah ... "
Angel covered him from head to toe, mouthing his neck. A slow slow fuck, that stopped sometimes all together, letting him experience the almost impossible fullness, the imposing weight of him. The toes of Angel's foot slotting his Achilles tendon. One round knee pressing into the back of his. Fingers entwined. Spike flexed inside, drew gasps and grunts from Angel. A sensation of time slowed down around them, a bubble within which this could happen and be completely good.
He couldn't turn his head far enough to see, but Spike heard the game face come up. The sound raised goosebumps on his flesh, anticipation of delicious pain.
"Want to taste you."
He'd never asked permission before.
Spike moved his head to present his neck more fully. "Sire."
Angel's pleasure, in hearing him say that word, in his shuddering moan as he was bitten, in the long remembered taste, transmitted itself through the pulses of his hips, and how he stroked Spike's hair as he drank. He was everywhere large and heavy and sheltering, yet Spike felt himself more solacer than solaced.
Later, Angel held him in his arms, kissing him for a long time with eyes closed. An uncanny sense passed through him, as he gave himself to Angel's tender, persistent mouth, that he was receiving affection meant for someone else, someone who could not be there, could not safely and willingly accept it.
A wave of sadness as physical as nausea took him, and he turned his head aside.
He remembered a little sailor, wiry and muscular and no more than five feet tall, caught up on the wharves at Nice. He had a waxed moustache, and one eye that was blue, while the other was brown. He'd fought and struggled and started to die in silence, but when he was almost gone he cried a name, Mathilde, Mathilde. One life taken, and how many spoiled?
Remembered a child he'd snatched off the street, right from under her mother's nose, during the New York City blackout of '77. How her snot slicked his fingers as he pressed them over her small face. How she smelled of sweet child-sweat and watermelon candy and gorgeous gorgeous terror. Her blood like raspberry juice running down his throat. He'd left her empty body in a trash-strewn lot. Somewhere her brothers and sisters lived and remembered her and never got over the horror of her abduction.
Every victim he'd plucked from the web of life was mourned. He'd meant it that waydidn't like to feed off those sorts of human refuse no one would miss. Wanted to disrupt the human pattern, gash it, make a hole that wouldn't close over.
Foul foul foul.
And he'd done nothing since to atone for any of it. He'd charmed his way into a slayer's bed, taken her love as if he had a right to it, fought her fight so he'd always have access to those magic restoratives, her gaze and her cunny. If there was no cunny, he'd have gone on being as evil as the damned chip would permit.
Angel's warmed fingers rubbed the tears from his face. "Will, what is it?"
He couldn't speak. The tears seemed to shake themselves out in spasms of grief. Each resurfaced memory clutched at his throat, his vitals. He could see them all. Time hadn't dimmed a single face.
He wished the Powers had taken his offer, sent him to hell. He'd have suffered there, but not in this way. It was as if he'd been anaethesized; the drug worn off, he realized he'd been torn open with a rough and rusty blade, left to bleed and writhe. A soul was a wound. A suppurating wound that could only throb and ache and stab. His whole existence was unnatural, he was dirty, a pestilence. Shouldn't have a woman to love him, shouldn't have childrenno wonder Johnny went and got himself damned, what chance did he have, son of a vampire?
He didn't even realize he was saying anything out loud until Angel's voice penetrated the flow of broken words. "This'll pass. It hurts like hell, but it'll pass. You'll learn to live with what you were, and you'll remember you're something else now, something good."
"Where's all this respect for old Spike comin' from? Never used to"
"No. Never." So much had changed, just in the last forty-eight hours, his mind first among them. "You're lucky you had all that time with nothing on your conscience before it happened to you."
"Nothing on my conscience? Whose bloody unlife are we talking about here, 'cause it isn't mine. Yeah, you really don't know me anymore."
"You haven't taken any victims in decades. When it happened to me"
"Are you worrying about me? Is that it?"
Angel didn't know how to answer. He continued his caresses, each one feeling like a leave-taking. "I worry."
Spike chuckled, raised his head to look into Angel's face. "Sucks, doesn't it, havin' goodness thrust upon you?"
Spike's phone rang. He peeled himself out of Angel's arms to hang off the bed, fumble for it in the pocket of his jeans puddled on the floor.
Angel could hear the tiny voice clearly, even before Spike crawled back into his place, curled against his body. A hot feeling rushed through him, he wanted to leap up and escape its range; he wanted to grab the phone and hear it in his own ear. She sounded faint, as if she was very very tired, or calling from the bottom of the ocean.
Angel heard her tell Spike that she'd decided not to go to her husband's funeral. They talked about whether Milo's sister connected his death-by-vampire to them. As he talked, Spike's face relaxed into a smile that revealed his pleasure in his daughter.
"Come back to LA now. Come quick, Pudding."
"I will, Papa. I love you. Goodbye."
Again Angel had reason to be glad he couldn't blush. Her voice evoked memory of her face, her little hands, the tension of her body wreathed in melancholy, the pretty eyes looking so lost. He couldn't wait to see her again. Maybe she would say some other astonishing thing to him, some remark she could make to no one else.
"Pudding," Angel said. "That's cute."
"There's not enough endearments in the world for her." Spike tossed the phone onto the bedside table. "Could do with a hot cuppa red and a bath before I sleep."
This was over then. Angel fought off his impulse to hold Spike back, ask him for a few more hours together in this bed. But he could see that Spike had already drifted away, his thoughts pinned once more on his approaching children, who would need him to be steady and capable.
"Are you going back to your hotel? You can stay here, there's plenty of rooms made up."
"I'll come back tonight then, thanks." He was on his feet now, putting on his clothes, but came back to him where he sat on the edge of the bed, bent to kiss him. A kiss both lingering and parting. Drawing back with a smile. "Knew when I came here you wouldn't turn us out, but still you've surprised me, all this. Some little bit of good can come out of almost anything."
Angel clasped his hand, and then Spike was gone.
Tara was afraid.
He'd done nothing overtly threatening. At first he did nothing at all, except drink the blood she brought him, sleep nearly round the clock, then take a bath that lasted hours and used up all the hot water her creaky old heater could generate. When the sun was nearly gone in the late afternoon he presented himself, wet hair slicked back, dressed in the clothes she'd washed for him.
"These don't look right anymore, do they?"
She looked up from her book. "We can go out and get others."
"I have no money. I got separated from my wallet in London. If you'll lend me some, my father will pay you back."
There was nothing threatening in this, except the complete strangeness of it. His aura was the wrong color, and beyond that, he felt off. Tears came to her eyes as she watched him move quietly around her study, looking at her books and pictures. He'd last visited her here in the early summer, and he'd done the same thing, moved the same way. But this wasn't Johnny. He was, as she'd been taught to believe way back in Sunnydale, a creature wearing her nephew's face, who was yet not her nephew. She'd never known anyone who was turned before, and so had doubted it, but the feeling of his displacement was profound and sharp.
He stopped by the mantlepiece, his back to her. The mirror that hung over it was old and beautiful, with its elaborate gilt frame, the silver showing through so that it reflected more light than image. He'd always enjoyed looking at himself in it, climbing on a chair to do so before he grew tall enough, saying he was sure this was the same kind of mirror as led Alice through the Looking Glass. He put a hand out now to touch it, tentative as if afraid his fingers would penetrate the surface.
"Does it seem right to you that a souled being should still have no reflection?"
"I don't know. I guess some things that are lost never can come back."
He hadn't turned, and from where she sat, he wouldn't be seeing her reflection. She supposed he could smell her tears, or feel the heat of them.
"You love my father, but you're afraid of me."
"I know Spike, but I don't know you." The words came out before she could stop herself. They were true; there was a distance between her and this creature that didn't seem bridgeable. She wanted to weep because the child she loved was dead.
"Don't you trust me?" He faced her now. His eyes were yellow, flashing in the room's waning light.
"I trust you. But it's unkind for you to ask me that way. To to look that way."
"Oh, I'm like the big scary man walking behind you at night, who ought to cross the street to show how sensitive he is, that he's not threatening you. Yes?"
This wasn't working; Tara pulled herself together, rose from her chair. "I'm sorry you miss your reflection. I'm sorry you're confused. I want to help you"
"I hear 'but.'"
"There's no but. I want to help you as much as you'll let me."
"You think I won't let you?" He crossed to the study doorway before she could reach it. Tara stopped a few feet away from him. He lounged in the opening, a hand up on either jamb. "Where are you going, Auntie? We're talking."
"We can talk. Why don't you sit down?"
"Why should I?"
"I think you're getting pleasure from making me uncomfortable."
He pushed off out of the doorway, flung himself into a chair. "I don't think I'll ever get any pleasure again! How the hell can I? Everything's ruined!"
"Oh. Oh" She felt her way back to the armchair opposite. "Don't say that, it's not true."
"Tara, I don't want a soul. It's too painfulit hurts too much. How can I get rid of it? There must be some way."
"Johnny, don't think about that. There isn't, and it's not going to do you any good"
"Nothing's going to do me any good. There must be something in all your magical books that'll turn me back into what I was."
"You said Spike tried. If the powers refused to make you human again, I certainly can't."
"Not that. I don't want that. I just want to be a vampire. I liked it! That's what they refused to understand! They're all do as I say, not as I already got to do for centuries! This this isn't natural." He made a face. "Guilt. I don't want to be sorry. I don't want to atone. I just want my freedom. I won't bother any of you, you'll never have to hear of me again"
"I wouldn't like that. Never hearing of you again? Never seeing you? I love you. So do Spike and Buffy, your sisterlots of people."
He sneered. "You can't love me, not like this. You don't think I'm me anymore." He jumped up; the next moment he was in her face, looming over her, pinning her to her seat. "I just want to be like herlike my sire. I want to get out of here."
Tara struggled to stay calm in the face of his gleaming fangs. "I thought you came to me because you needed help. The kind I've always given you. Not the kind you're asking for right now."
"I bet your blood would be so sweet. If it's like you."
She tipped up her chin. "Are you going to tear my throat out after all? Do it then. Don't stand here talking."
He pushed off, went to the window. Tara gasped, pulled herself up out of the chair. "Johnny"
"I killed five people. That can't be undone either. I can't stop thinking about it. I liked it. I want to do it again. But it makes me hurt. I hurt."
"Yes. I see that you do. But you have to face it. You're not a child anymore. You have to be responsible for yourself. Just like all the rest of us are. Like Angel and Spike are."
"Why should I have to suffer for what I did when I didn't have a soul? I did what vampires do! I didn't ask to be turned!" He burst into tears.
"Oh Johnny. Oh sweetheart, this is hard, I know." She opened her arms. Shuddering, he pushed past her and out of the room.
When she heard his tread on the stairs, the rush of water going into the tub, she made a phone call.
"He was going to erase himself," Johnny said. "For me. And my sister was ready to die ... well not for me. That was for him. But my father, he was going to do that for my sake."
"He loves you."
"Oh yeah. You wouldn't say that if you, you know, actually knew us."
"I know you," Angel said.
"I only saw you for the first time two days ago."
"I'm Spike's sire. I know him. I don't think there's anything Spike cares about more than you and your sister. Or ever has."
"You're joking, right?"
Angel glanced across at him. They'd been riding in perfect silence for more than four hours before this outbreak.
"I don't joke."
"My mother? You know he just lives to boff the slayer. That's always been the most important thing. That, and fussing over my sister. I didn't even come in a distant third. I didn't come in at all."
"He knows he wasn't always there for you. But you just said yourself, he was ready to do whatever it took for you."
"Fat lot of good it did. Now we're both all fucked up."
"You're not fucked up."
"I wanted to be a historian. Maybe an archaeologist. I wanted to travel. I wanted to have friendsnormal friends. Normal girlfriends. Lots of them. Who don't know about vampires. I wanted to enjoy myself. What am I supposed to do now?"
"The work of atonement."
"Oh, that sounds like a bundle of laughs." Johnny popped his hands off the dashboard. "But you're gonna say something profound like'it's actually a privilege.'"
"It's actually a privilege."
"I'm not going to be any good at it."
"Neither was I, at first. It grows on you."
"I don't know how to fight. How to kill things. Except humans. Humans are easy."
"You'll learn. I'll teach you."
Angel looked at him again. Beneath the veneer of defiance, the kid actually seemed unsure.
"Because I'm the head of the order of Aurelius, and you're its newest member."
"I'm your grand-sire."
"If you're so responsible, why did you leave Drusilla walking around? Do you have any idea how many people she's killed in my lifetime?"
"I can't be everywhere. I'm just one guy."
"You didn't want to kill her."
"We're talking about you now."
"I'm just sayingit wasn't my fault. I didn't know"
"You drank from her."
"I must've. I don't remember. I'd had a lot to drink of the booze variety first."
"In a strange house with a woman you didn't know. And you're saying it's not your fault."
"Uh, yeah. Besides, if I'd resisted, she'd have killed me. But I don't think I could've. I was nearly dead by then."
"And blind drunk."
"Yeah." He was quiet for a while. Then"Shit. What's my mother going to do when she finds out about this? Is she going to stake me?"
"She hasn't staked Spike in thirty-five years, so I doubt it."
He was quiet after that, hands twisting in his lap. Angel could practically feel the cogs in his head turning. Which wasn't surprising, of course he had plenty to think about. He was scared, beset by guilt and dread. All feelings Angel knew intimately.
"You're in trouble," he said, "but that doesn't mean it's hopeless."
"How would you know? Shit, she's gonna hate me now. They all are. They blame me for being stupid. And nothing's going to bring back the people I killed. Mywell, she wasn't my girlfriend. We slept together but she wouldn't exactly date me."
"It's complicated. Well, not anymore, because she's dead. And Milo's dead. Jemmie's never gonna forgive me for that."
"I think you underestimate her."
Johnny stared at him then. "You don't know her. Don't tell me about my sister."
"Fine. I was just trying"
"So you're gonna make me fight demons with you and you're gonna therapize me? Christ."
"I'm going to help you. Why is that concept so difficult for you to grasp?"
"Right. Because you help the helpless."
"And I'm more helpless than most. So when do you rape me?"
"C'mon, like I don't know. You've been screwing my father since we got here. Is that how he's paying for this? Is that how I'm supposed to pay, with my ass?"
"You were mighty interested in that stasis spell Papa used on me. That'll be the only way you'll have me, because I swear I'll kill you if you try anything. And I will tell my mother what I know. She won't wanna hear that you forced him into"
"You've got it wrong. I didn't force Spike to do anything. And what's between him and me is private."
"It's not private if you reek of it afterwards."
"It was consensual, and it wasn't about you. That's all you need to know."
"That's impossible. He wouldn't be unfaithful to my mother!"
"There's a lot you don't understand. But it's none of your business. All you need to know is, I'm not going to touch you."
"I know you raped Drusilla. And my father. So I'm thinking that's how one gets jumped in to the Glorious Elevated Order Of Aur-fucking-elius."
"It used to be, but it isn't anymore. Now shut up before I get the idea you're really asking for it."
"This is your room," Angel said. "You can move the furniture or change it if you want. I'll have the blood delivery upped to cover what you'll need. I understand you have money of your own, so you can pay me rent. I'm not going to give you a salary until I see that you're productive. Then you'll go on the payroll. Right now, you're low man on the totem poleany of my people ask you to do anything, it's like I'm asking you. Cooperate. Any questions?"
Johnny shook his head. He wouldn't look at either of them. Spike wondered what had gone on during the trip. He'd been surprised when Angel offered to go up to Tara's to fetch him; he'd expected to do that, after she called to say she was a little nervous about making the trip down herself.
The room Angel picked out for Johnny was as far away from his ownand from the suite he'd offered to himas it could be. Smallish, with nothing much to see out the single window. Another way of letting the kid know his place.
"Get some rest. This afternoon, we'll get started."
Angel pulled the door shut between them. Spike followed him down the corridor, taking care to be well out of ear shot before murmuring, "What do you think?"
Angel looked up. "He's aware of what we've been doing. What we've ... finished doing."
"Huh. Guess that shouldn't surprise us."
"He believes he's got blackmail material, with Buffy. And that I've coerced you. That you wouldn't ever step out on Buffy without being forced."
Spike couldn't repress a grin. "Aw. Well, an' so I wouldn't, if she hadn't done it first."
"He doesn't know about her thing with the wizard."
"No. Neither does Jemima, an' I don't want her to, that is, unless Buffy decides it's all right to tell her. Didn't want them gettin' mixed up in our peccadillos, tho' I guess that won't be so easy to prevent now."
"He thought I was going to ... that I would force myself on him."
This, and Angel's matter of fact way of saying it, startled Spike. Although it was hardly a startling conclusion for the kid to draw. Spike wondered what Drusilla had told him; remembered how she used to regale him with elaborate tales of how Angelus had raped and tortured her at the beginning. Sometimes she was full of indignation, and at others, her descriptions were ecstatic and wistful, building into a crescendo of tearful desire that he'd have to try to satisfy, though he never did much like being savage with her.
"I told him those days were over."
Spike shrugged. "He's shit-scared."
They'd reached the door of his own suite, directly across from Angel's.
"When do you expect your daughter?"
"She just got in, an' went straight to the hotel to sleep."
"There's still a few good hours of dark," Angel said. "We could"
"patrol." He smiled. "You up for that?"
"C'mon then. Know you've wanted to kick the snot out of me for years now, so here's your chance. Do it. Show me what you got now you're one of us. No holds barred, 'cept you don't kill me an' I don't kill you."
Standing a body's length away, arms dangling at his sides, Johnny stared at him through his spectacles. Spike wondered why he was still wearing themhe'd never needed his again after he was turnedand almost dropped out of his stance to ask, then remembered he was trying to do something here. The boy wouldn't listen to him on any subject; wouldn't talk. He was behaving like the same sort of deaf-dumb-and-blind warthog of misery as he could be when a child. The resentment in him was so apparent, like seeing an immense mesa rise up out of a flat landscape. So, Spike figured, let him get his ya-yas out. Might be the shortest way to catharsis, and that's what was needed herea confession, a good cry.
"You're either going to beat my face in like you did in the car, or you're going to hold back and let me win so I'll feel like a twat. No thanks."
This was unexpected. Still, it was a line of argument that wasn't going to lead where Spike wanted to go, so he ignored it, roared into the boy, and shoved him hard.
Johnny came up fast with a punch to the face, nothing that hurt him, but with a good snap to it. Spike vamped out, grinning, taunting with his hands. "That's the ticket. C'mon, kid. C'mon, give it me good."
They were in Johnny's room. Spike suspected they'd wreck it, which might annoy Angel, not that he didn't have about sixty other unused rooms in the place, but maybe having to put the room back together after this would help Johnny feel like it was really his. He'd be here a while, after all.
"You're disgusting. I know what you've been doing. I know what you're always doing. If your cock fell off you wouldn't even be a person anymore. Because you're really not about anything else, are you?"
"Dunno, am I? What're you about, then?"
Johnny threw another punch that flung him back against the wall, and leapt after, getting in a barrage of rage-powered blows that lacked finesse but grew in power as Spike took them. Johnny didn't even notice when he cut his knuckles on Spike's fangs; the blood splattered on both of them. When Spike finally ducked, Johnny's fist went into the wall.
"Pull it straight out, you'll be okay."
"Don't fucking tell me what to do."
For a second Spike considered attacking him while he was distracted, but decided to err on the side of fairness, even if the kid might think later that he'd let him off too easily.
The hand came out torn and red, but as Johnny flexed it, the cuts were already closing. Spike gave him a few moments to take this in before attacking him again. "C'mon! Mix it up! Don't let your guard down!"
Johnny parried, hit outand then stopped. "Fuck this. Fuck this."
"I don't want to do this. Is this what I'm supposed to be now? A brawler on the side of good? That's all you arefighting and fucking are all you do. Like a machine. You might as well not even have a mind."
"Uhthat's a bit of an exaggeration."
Johnny sank onto the bed, his head cradled in his hands. "This isn't going to work."
Cautiously, Spike sat beside him. "Feels that way now, but won't forever."
"Oh, is that cliché number two-hundred-and-twelve? Got any more? Let's hear 'em all now and get it over with! Because if that's the kind of crap you and him are gonna tell me every day, I think I'll just" He flung himself up, fists pounding the walls again as if to break out.
Spike leaned back on his elbows. "Tell me about the people you killed."
He spun around, wild-eyed. "Huh?"
"How many did the Conduit say it was? Just five? I envy you."
"Thousands an' thousands, me. An' I remember every single one. But this isn't meant to be my pissing match. Want you to tell me about yours."
"So you can scold me?"
"Scold you for doing what vampires do? No. So they're real. So we can give 'em proper respect."
"What good is that going to do?"
At least Johnny was talking. Spike stayed calm, patient. "I'm figuring this out same as you. Don't have the answers. But I think we've got to face up to things we both done. Figure out how to go on, knowing we can't restore the lives we took, erase the suffering we inflicted."
He stared at nothing, his mouth gone slack.
"S'overwhelming, yeah? That's why you should tell me about 'em. Least then we'll know ... what we're talking about here."
"And what are you going to do? Write an inventory of your thousands and thousands?"
This didn't seem all that far-fetched, except he couldn't grasp what the point of it would be, exactly.
"Worry about that in a bit. Your five, now."
"Dru had the first one ready for me, bound and gagged. A girl. Probably a student. Orno. An office worker, because she was wearing a silk blouse. It started out white and ended up red. I opened her up, and then I fucked Dru on top of her before she died. She was stiff with terror, and her heartbeat" His face crumpled then, like it had when he was a tiny boy coming upon a dead bird beneath a tree.
Spike had to struggle to remain impassive. "That's one. An' the next?"
Johnny shook his head. "Don't make me. Don't make me do this."
"I'll trade you one. S'no better than yours. My first killa dirty little street-whore was probably no older than thirteen. Presented to me the same way."
"And did you do the same thing? Have her on top ofofthe other one's body?"
"No." Spike rocked forward, clasped his hands on his knee. He hadn't had Drusilla at all, not that way, not for years. He'd tell the boy all he wanted to hear about it, but this didn't seem like the right moment. It would be too easy to let him distract himself by eliciting tales. "Let's hear about the next."
Her smile when he set the plate before her was pure Buffythat element of almost desperate sparkle she sometimes had. She tucked a lock of dangling hair behind one ear as she surveyed the food, picked up the heavy silver fork. Angel slipped into the chair opposite, watching her take her first taste with a suspense nearly worthy of a Grand National.
Jemima closed her eyes, her face lit with a gentler light than a moment ago. "Oh, this is good. I do like fried tomatoes with my sausage and eggs."
"I can make more. There's plenty of tomatoes."
"Let me work on this first. This is so kind of you."
"Well, I thought ... you looked hungry. I mean ... don't get me wrong, you look good ... I mean, I just wanted"
"I am hungry. I'm not really sure when I last ate anything hot."
She ate, with a methodical ladylike quietness, but with barely a pause, until there was nothing left. He didn't take his eyes off her the entire time; sometimes she glanced up and repeated that smile, but mostly she concentrated on her plate. His scrutiny didn't seem to bother her. Neither, apparently, did his silence.
"You want more," Angel said, starting up, going back to the stove where the pan still sat on a low flame.
"Don't tell anyone I was so greedy."
"Who would I tell?" He sliced the tomatoes. The juice ran out, thick and dark, on the cutting board, like ... he still tasted Spike's blood. Not the right thing to be thinking of with her here. When he topped up her coffee, he poured a cup for himself, drank it down black.
She was watching him now, contemplative. "How is my brother? Really?"
"He's ... troubled." The pan sizzled as he threw in the red slices.
"He always has been, I think."
"Some people just are, aren't they? He blames our parents, but really, there was so much love for him at home. He was the baby. Everyone doted on him. Not just Mamma and Papa and me, but Mamma's people, you know, Xander and Rupert and Anya and Tara. Willow. They were all there when he was little, and they all adored him. He was a surprise, and a miraclenot like I was, because Mamma wanted Johnny, she wished for him. And at the last minute we almost didn't get to keep him, Mamma was going to let the other William take him away. I was there, I've never forgotten it. Everyone was so emotional. When he gave my brother back to her, there was this collective sigh of relief." She shivered. "That was an amazing night. Butnot what we were talking about. I was only trying to sayI don't know why Johnny is the way he is, but it's not exactly new."
"Being a vampire is new. Getting his soul back is new."
"But that's a good thing, isn't it? The soulwill keep him from doing anything bad."
"We hope so. But plenty of bad gets done in this world by people with souls, every minute."
"So you're saying ... you don't know if he's back? Back with us, I mean?"
"There must be so much pleasure in vampire things, when there's no conscience to interfere. And then the conscience comes back, butmaybe the pleasure is still there. Maybe there's revulsion and pleasure both, and it's confusing."
She was so willing to see two sides, even when it concerned the obscenity of demon appetites. Angel bit back a rebuke. Put the fried tomatoes on her plate. She smiled up at him as he set it before her. "Thank you."
"There are some things you don't have to try to understand."
"Why? Because I wear pink sweaters and have a small shoe size?" She began to eat. "So does my mother."
Angel dropped back into his chair, stunned. She was stunning.
"Please don't condescend to me. This is delicious."
"Just because I try to understand, don't confuse that with excusing. I know what Johnny did. I saw what he did to my husband."
"I'm sorry you had to see that."
"We were always close, I always understood him better than anyone. I want to understand him now, I want to help him, but I'm not making excuses for him. He's been, as you say, troubledfor a long time. But he never set out to hurt anyone except himself. I suppose that's the big change that happens when someone gets turnedit frees them to put the destruction on others."
"That's ... yeah. It's true."
"I was seven when I found out about Papa. You probably don't know that."
"Seven? Seven's ... young. I can't imagine Spike would've"
"Mamma had recently lost her leg, and things were tense at home. I walked in on them when they were fighting. She was punching him, and he'd fanged out."
"My God. Did you"
"About lose my baby mind? Yes. I never was so frightened before or since." She skated the last slice of tomato around on the plate, watching its progress intently. "Uncle Rupert explained to me then about vampires, and I don't suppose I understood half of it, but I was determined to love Papa no matter what, especially because at the time it seemed like maybe my mother didn't anymore. When I got older ... I learned more. My husband, who had an agenda, showed me everything the Council had on him. And even if half of it was exaggerations, it still .... He thinks I've shut out the truth about him, that I'm wilfully ignorant. I'm not. But what I know best of all, is that he loves me, he's good to me, to my mother and to everyone we know. For all our sakes, he works hard to be good. That's just as real as what he was before. The point is I'm not some little Pollyanna, but I'm not going to turn away from either of them because of what they did. "
He wondered if she realized how markedly she kept bringing the conversation back to Spike. She was Daddy's girl, that was for sure. Was that why her marriage had failed?
"Your brother will need your help most of all."
"I'm ready to give it to him."
"Are you? Your world's turned upside down in a daythat's got to take a while to process."
Johnny shot into the kitchen, then stopped just out of arm's reach, as if kept back by a force field.
She got up and went to him. "Sluggo, you're bruised."
"You shouldn't be here." He looked curdled. Shied away when she put a hand into his space.
"I'm here to be with you."
"You shouldn't have to be exposed toto what I am." He glanced at Angel. "To any of us. Monsters. I know now, what goes on in the minds ofeven with a soul. I know.You shouldn't have to be anywhere near"
"Oh Johnny, don't start this. We'll get one thing straight, yeah? From now on, you're done hurting people. And we'll work on you not hurting yourself, together. What you did to Milo, to those others ... it was bad, but it's finished. We're going forward."
Angel wondered if she'd regret her own willingness soon. Forgiveness like this didn't seem quite human.
Neither of them, brother and sister, was ready for this, both shaken to their cores. They couldn't prepare, they'd just have to live through it, moment by moment. In a year perhaps they'd look back and be able to parse how much was really meant of what they said with such apparent sincerity.
Johnny walked past her, came up to him. "Look, does she have to be here? She's the last unsullied, normal person in our familyI don't want her witnessing ...."
"I think your sister passed unsullied and normal about five exits back. She wants to help you. I'm not going to turn her out."
"There's no way she can help me. She's free now. She should go have a regular life, somewhere ... regular."
"Everyone I love is here," Jemima said. "Or will be soon. Are you trying to boot me out of the family because I'm the only one without the special powers?"
Her eyes were glistening, and Angel wanted to punch Johnny into the floor.
"I can't stand this!" Johnny said.
"Then sit. And shut up." Angel shoved him into a chair. "My place, my rules."
When Angel arrived at Wes's room, Rita was already there, with Darryl and Noel; sunshine poured through the windows, and there were fresh flowers on the bedside table, beside a pile of books and journals they'd brought him. Sitting up in the midst of them, Wes was livelier than Angel had seen him in a long while. In Rita's knitted cap and new green pajamas, his eyes clear and almost sparkling in his sunken face, he looked like a strange parody of a cheerful marionette, the carved and painted head emphasized over the body, which depended long and skinny and limp.
From the doorway, he smiled. "It's an Angel Investigations staff meeting."
"Come in," Wes said, beaming. "This is so nice." Darryl hastened to pull the blinds.
"The only one we're missing is Constanza." When Noel said it, Rita gave him a sharp look. After a few minutes of idle chit-chat, they got up en-masse and left.
"We don't talk about Constanza anymore?" Angel said.
"Death. We don't talk about death in front of the dying man." Wes's thin hands twitched on the coverlet. "Apparently."
"Every new thing seems to sweep the last one before it. Since this thing with Spike, I've barely thought of her. And yet before that, I felt her absence every day, and wondered"
"So there's been no sign? From the Powers?"
"No. It's hardI can't exactly wish the visions on any of them, Rita or Dar or Noel. I wonder why they don't just give them to me."
Wes closed his eyes, as if he was looking inside for some answer. When he opened them, he seemed to have found one. "Because the Powers want you never to forget that you are so much more when you work in league with others. If you had the visions, you would begin to imagine you could be a lone force. And you would lose the mission."
How the hell am I going to lose you? "That must be right."
"I do think so. She's only been gone, what, ten weeks? There were other times when we had to waitafter Cordelia there was a long lag. After V'Dala. But the guidance was always there when you needed it most."
"I've got my hands full right now, that's true." As he said it, Angel put out his own to clasp Wesley's. It was like holding something that had already begun dissolving back into its component chemicals.
"How's it going? What's the boy like?"
"He's a mess. I'm not sure what I'm going to be able to make of him."
"Describe him to me. Is he smart?"
"It would be easy to say no, given how he got himself into this mess, and how he's acted since. But he's not stupid. He lacks self-awareness, at the same time that he isn't aware of anything but himself."
Wes let out a soft snort of laughter. "Which of us was different, at twenty-one?"
Angel nodded. "Was a long long time ago, but I remember. Johnny's hating himself right now. Although according to his sister, it's an on-going condition."
"I suppose if he didn't hate himself, we'd wonder if the soul was really in place."
"I took him patrolling last night at Hancock Parkthere's almost always some vampire action going on there if you time it right. I wanted to see what he was capable of."
"He almost got himself staked. Twice. His heart just wasn't in the fighting, even to defend himself."
"Not his father's son in that respect, then?"
"Well, they don't get much press, but we know the world is full of vampires who are almost entirely nonviolent. Vampires who pass."
"I wouldn't say full. They exist, yeah. But most of them didn't start out nonviolent. That would be almost impossible. The first thing any vampire wantsneedswhen he rises is blood. The urge to take it by force, to feel the victim's terror and death ... it's a strong urge. Overwhelming. And there's no countering sense of wrong to make you think twice. Most vampires that young barely think at all."
"So if he won't make a fighter, what are you going to do with him?"
"I don't know yet. He might ... he likes books. I showed him your library this morning, and it was the only time I saw his expression crack. But"
"No no! Of course he is welcome to use the books. You have no one else with a real feel for them"
"I don't know if he really does have a feel for them or if he was just thinking he could hide in there. There's no one like you. No one who could take"
"My place? Someone must, Angel, for you to go on. I have no doubt someone suitable will appear. Just as the visions will resurface."
They'd never talked about this, even though Wesley had been too ill to work for months and months. Angel had known all along that Wes wouldn't recover, but it was impossible to think of Angel Investigations without him. He was the brains of the operation. Spike's boy, no matter how clever he might turn out to beand that was purely theoretical for nowcouldn't fill his shoes. Wesley was more than the problem-solver. He was the confidant, the continuity. There nearly from the beginning. Knowing everything he was.
Wes squeezed his hand. "I am sorry."
"That you have to go on with the fight even as all your comrades go to their rests. It's harder to make new friends, form new bonds, as we get older."
"I have good people."
"You do. But I know you miss the others. Change is hard, when what you are and must do cannot change. For youwho goes on and on never getting any older at all, and yet feeling, I imagine, so ancientit must be so very lonely."
Angel wanted to hide his face. Sometimes Wes's determination to face facts, to articulate them ... could be too much.
"I hope Spike is making you feel a bit less alone now," Wes went on, his voice low and gentle. "Although he too will leave."
"How do you know?"
"You have two very prominant hickeys on your neck, Angel. One where the skin is broken by what could only be fangs." Wes's smile was wistful. "Two vampires at loveit must be a fiercesome sight."
Angel tugged at his shirt collar. "Don't I get to have any secrets?" Immediately his mind went to Jemimahad she seen these marks? But he'd been wearing a high-necked sweater that morning when she came.
"Don't be cross with me."
"No. And there's nothing I want to keep from you." Angel did it then, leaned in and pressed his lips to Wes's stubbly cheek. Wes stiffened for a moment, then let out a long sigh that sounded like satisfaction's phantom. He smelled of sickness, his blood thin and wrong. "This thing with Spike," Angel said. "We certainly didn't plan it."
"Who plans a love affair?"
"It's not Anyway, it's over now."
"How's the little girl? Has she returned? What's she making of all this?"
The transition was so fast, Angel almost couldn't make it. His whole self resisted thinking of Jemima in the same moment as his new-sprung passion for Spike. Yet she was in his mind all the time, now. He was learning her expressions, her tones of voice. As he'd made his way to the hospital he'd imagined entire conversations with her.
"She's ... she's good."
"Nothing more to say than that? Hasn't she made any further impression on you?"
"It's been busy."
"And you must get back," Wes said. "Anyway, I'm tired. All of a sudden ...."
The animation he'd displayed when Angel walked in was evaporated. Wes's eyes had gone dull and half-lidded. But still he tried to smile a goodbye.
In parting, Angel kissed him again, more confidently.
Return to Herself's Fic.