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Part two of two

Episode Thirteen: Duplex

by hold_that_thought

***
All eyes followed Spike as he strutted across the stage at Caritas. Though he’d remained sullen and silent for the entire ride across town and had robotically allowed himself to be hustled onto the stage, by the first chorus he’d snapped out of it, finally improvising a few dance moves as he belted out his karaoke selection.

I find it all so amusing to think I killed a cat
And my, I say not in a dull way
Oh no, oh no not me
I did it myyyyy waaaaay!

The only pair of eyes not glued to Spike belonged to Angel, who was preoccupied with watching Lorne as the demon tried to read Spike. Lorne’s face remained impassive for most of the performance, which didn’t make reading the reader any easier. Still, better than watching Sinatra get mangled. He didn’t understand what Spike had against nice, soothing ballads.

Angel was also pretty sure there weren’t any dead cats in the Sinatra version.

Oz retrieved his Sprite from the bar and joined Angel in the back of the room. “Remind me why we’re here?”

“So Lorne can read Spike.”

“Cool. And the singing?”

Angel shook his head. “I know. It’s really bad.”

“No, why?”

“Oh. Lorne’s an anagogic demon.”

“Right.” Oz took a sip of his drink. “I’m sure that makes an L.A. kind of sense.”

Spike punctuated a lyric with a jump-kick, narrowly avoiding knocking over one of the speakers, causing Lorne to panic and spill his drink all over himself. Angel chuckled.

“I think I’ve been in Sunnydale too long,” Oz said. “I don’t usually have to ask questions, because they all tend to explain things. A lot.”

“You noticed that too?”

Oz nodded. “So...Spike?”

Angel leaned his head back against the wall and closed his eyes. “I’ve seen Spike fight. A lot. Seen him take on people and vampires and demons and Slayers he had no business fighting, time and time again. Seen him take asinine risks that no one in their right mind would take.”

“Yeah, but that’s just Spike.”

“It is. Except....” Angel opened his eyes and watched Spike finish the song with a flourish before grandly bowing to the wildly applauding crowd. “Except that I never saw him in a fight he obviously wanted to lose. Until tonight.” He looked at Oz. “Add to that what you told me about Buffy....”

“You think Spike has a deathwish,” Oz finished.

“Don’t you?”

Oz shrugged. “Never struck me as the deathwish type.”

“That’s the point.” Angel noticed Lorne waving him over. “Excuse me.” Angel passed Spike, who was heading back towards Oz, and gave him a pat on the shoulder. “Great job. Sinatra would be proud.”

“Yeh, thank-- what now? Sinatra?!”

“Angel!” Lorne smiled warmly and motioned for Angel to sit down next to him. “Is that a new shirt?”

“Huh? Oh, yeah. Cordy went shopping. This was the only one she brought back that wasn’t bright blue. But I didn’t come here to talk fashion.”

“Two hundred years and he still hasn’t mastered the art of small talk,” Lorne muttered before swiveling around to flag down the bartender. “Hey, another Sea Breeze here!” He turned back to Angel. “Did I mention I’m not comfortable disclosing a customer’s reading to a third party?”

“Only seven or eight times. But Spike couldn’t care less. And need I remind you who cleaned that nest of Benizal demons out of your basement last week, free of charge?”

“Okay, okay,” Lorne said, hands up in surrender. “Jeez, I hate those little buggers. Fine, so, your friend’s got some serious gloom and doom bouncing ‘round his noggin, let me tell you. I couldn’t have read him better if he was crooning Little Black Rain Cloud.”

“Yeah, I got that, Lorne,” Angel sighed. “That’s why we brought him here. I wanna know why.”

“Well excuse me, Mister Crankypants. The good news for you is that the P.T.B. came through with a little insight of their own somewhere around the second verse.”

“The Powers That Be? They showed you something about Spike?”

“Mmhmm. Oh, thank you Victor,” Lorne said, relieving the bartender of the Sea Breeze. “You’re a peach. Anyway, they were vague, of course. Someone up there thinks that half the fun is in decoding the message. Maybe sending them a carton of crossword puzzles would decrease their impulse to play fill-in-the-blanks with us messengers....”

Angel groaned and let his head loll backwards. He could usually tolerate Lorne’s rambling flamboyancy. He’d even grown to somewhat enjoy it. But after hearing that Buffy was... well, he didn’t understand what she was, didn’t think Oz or Spike did either. But whatever it was, it was bad, and the worst part was that Angel couldn’t do anything to help her.

So instead, he was going to concentrate on helping Spike.

Lorne downed his drink and motioned for another. “Sorry, I’ll try to stay on track.”

“I’d appreciate it.”

“Anyway, I got a glimpse of you and some gorgeous little blonde thing battling this green helmeted demon with a big honking ruby on his forehead.”

Angel blanched. “Hey, do you have a pen?”

Lorne nodded and pulled a Sharpie out of his pocket. “You never know when a fan will want an autograph.”

Grabbing a napkin and uncapping the marker, Angel made a quick sketch of a demon and pushed the drawing across the table to Lorne. “Is that him?”

“Without a doubt. What kind of demon is it?”

“Mohra.” Angel peered towards the back of the club, where Spike and Oz were standing around watching the small Zhukrath demon warble an anemic version of Born to be Wild. Spike seemed to have slipped back into his fugue state, because -- even clear across the club -- Angel could tell that he was only physically present. “I came across one a couple years ago.”

“Oh? So why do you think this is significant for Spike?”

“I don’t know.” Angel stood up. “Yet.” He handed the marker back to Lorne. “I need to talk to Spike alone.”

“There’s the supply room. You should have relative privacy, unless Max,” he indicated to the Zhukrath demon, “cleans us out of olives again and I need to send Victor for more.”

“Thanks.” Angel made his way back to Spike and Oz.

Spike shot him an annoyed glance before pulling out a pack of cigarettes. “There. I did karaoke and Oz filled you in on the... situation. So we’re done here, right? ‘Cause I don’t like leaving Dawn alone too long.”

Angel looked at Oz.

Oz seemed to understand, because he nodded almost imperceptibly then said “Nah, I’m gonna go crash anyway. I’ll grab a cab back, check on Dawn. You stay. Have a drink or two. I recommend the Sprite.”

“Yeah, Spike. I really think you should stay for a while.”

“Fine,” Spike shrugged. “Whatever. Too tired to argue.”

Angel nodded to Oz and led Spike through the club, trying to avoid eye contact with the Kovitch demon who’d kept hitting on him ever since he’d saved her from being eaten by a Frovlax a few weeks before. Not that Angel had anything against blue skin, of course, but there was all that slime... he stopped himself when he realized what he was doing. Getting lost in his own thoughts. While Spike was around. From day one, the younger vampire had always kept up a torrent of chatter, prattling on about who knows what, sometimes just to hear himself talk, sometimes competing with Drusilla for the dubious distinction of longest nonsensical sentence. Constant motion. But here he was, silently trailing behind Angel.

For the first time since the night he bailed Buffy out of jail and found out about her relationship with Spike, he actually believed... okay, so maybe he still wasn’t fully sure that Spike loved Buffy, but anything that managed to shut Spike up had to be serious.

“Sit,” Angel ordered once they were in the supply room.

Spike flopped down onto the large, overturned crate and looked at Angel expectantly. God, that was unnerving. Angel grabbed the first item in arm’s reach, a jar of pickles, and opened it up. He gingerly poked a finger into the brine, pushing a pickle down and watching it sink briefly before bobbing to the surface again.

“Uh...not that watching you play Poke the Pickle isn’t worth coming to L.A. for alone, but could you get on with it?”

“Oh, right.” Angel screwed the lid back on and put the jar back on the shelf. Talk about a role reversal, now he was the can’t-sit-still one? “So.”

“Yeh?”

“I noticed, back in the hotel, when you were fighting, you seemed....” He trailed off and looked at Spike, hoping maybe he’d offer to fill in the blanks.

No such luck.

“You seemed reckless,” Angel continued. “More than usual.”

“That so?”

Like pulling frigging teeth. “Yeah, it’s so,” he gritted out. Angel pulled up another crate and sat down across from Spike. “You looked like you wanted to die out there.”

Spike’s eyes flashed and his mouth started to open, but he suddenly seemed to deflate, sagging back against the plywood shelves. “Can you blame me?”

Angel couldn’t believe it. Spike... giving up. The guy who’d been willing to team up with his current girlfriend and then mortal enemy, play out this whole elaborate plan, just to get Drusilla back.

Angel couldn’t believe he’d just mentally referred to Buffy as Spike’s girlfriend. He shook his head. “I know you’re upset about Buffy. Believe me, I know what you’re going through. But she’s tough. They’ll find a way to bring her back.”

“It’s more than that,” Spike sighed. “This is just... made me realize, this is just the beginning.”

“Of what?”

“Of a very long road consisting of me watching everyone I love die and not being able to do a damned bloody thing about it.” Slumping forward, face cradled in his hands, his voice came out muffled, but it barely dulled the emotion simmering just under the surface. “Slayers already get the short straw, right? Lucky if they live as long as Buffy has so far. And Nibblet, managed to almost lose her twice this year.” Spike sat up and looked at Angel. “And it’s not just them. Even the rest, they’re just as breakable as my girls. Next big war could take Xander, and god, it was easier when I didn’t care, you know? Then there’s me. I’ve had an organ dropped on me, been left to burn in the sun, nearly been staked more times than I care to remember... but here I am. Here I’ll be, alive -- barely -- while everyone around me is gone.”

Angel had the same fears. He rarely admitted it, even to himself, but that was part of the reason he left Sunnydale in the first place. To give Buffy a chance at normal life, yes, but also, selfishly, to escape the inevitable watching her age while he didn’t. Which was why he swore to remain alone when he got to L.A. Not that his resolution lasted long.

His mind ticked back to what Lorne had told him, about the Mohra demon. Could he tell Spike? There was, after all, a reason why Angel had gone to the Oracles and asked them to fold back time. Buffy needed a man who could be a warrior for her, who could put the world’s needs above his own and her needs above all else. Spike had already proven he was incapable of doing the right thing and leaving Buffy alone; there was no way he’d be strong enough to turn down the easy fix that the Mohra blood seemed to offer. Then he would become even more of a liability and Buffy would get hurt even more than she already was. No, if the Powers wanted Spike to find out about the Mohra, they would have to find another way to tell him.

“Spike, this is a time for you to be selfless. If you love Buffy, as you say you do, you might just have to accept that you will outlive her. The best you can do is be there for her now, for all of them. Make the best of the time you do have. As far as ending up alone, a lot can happen in fifty years. If you told me back in the 1950s that I’d wind up with an amazing team and group of friends -- humans -- well, I was busy being hung by a lynch mob at the time, but that’s beside the point.”

“Yeh, but it doesn’t mean it’s gonna hurt any less when they’re all gone and you’re still here.”

“No, it won’t. But I’d rather be able to look back when they’re gone and be happy for the time I had with them, than throw it all away right now. I want to be there when Fred and Gunn get married, even if the crosses in the church burn me. I want to watch Cordelia playing with her child, even if it means standing far away from them on the playground because it’s sunny out. I want to make sure Wesley finally gets to travel to Asia, and buy Lorne’s CD the day it comes out. These people are my family, just like the Scoobies are yours now. It’s worth the pain of loss down the road just to see Cordelia practice her Oscar speech when she doesn’t think I’m looking, and watch the way Wesley’s face gets animated when he’s just translated a prophecy.”

Angel sat back and waited for Spike’s reaction. A few moments ticked by while Spike’s face remained blank, but Angel could see something turning around behind his eyes. Finally, Spike sat up and looked at Angel.

“I think I get what you’re saying,” he said. “Which is downright unnerving, actually. But yeh, be there for her. For Buffy. Just worry about making every day count.”

Angel nodded. “It’s the only thing any of us can do in this situation.”

For the first time in what felt like forever, Spike’s eyes looked clear, as the doubt and confusion melted away.

“Knock-knock!” Lorne opened the door and popped his head in. “I’m not here, you can’t see me,” he said apologetically, shuffling into the storage room. “Sorry to interrupt, pretend I’m invisible. Just need a jar of olives.”

Angel reached around, grabbed a jar, and handed it to Lorne.

“Thanks a bunch, now get back to your heart-to-heart hair gel conference.”

Angel scowled.

“Oh! I almost forgot, I was talking to Luther, you know, the Lister? Short, green spiny skin, likes to wear crushed velvet suits?” Lorne shuddered. “Anywho, he tells me there’s this demon out in Silver Lake, real mover and shaker, big with the prophecies and interdimensional travel. According to Luther, he’s the guy to see if you want to track down a Mohra demon. But he jumps dimensions a lot and no one knows how long he’s gonna be around, so you better get a move on if Cheekbones here is gonna fulfill whatever the Powers That Be have in store for him.”

Spike watched Lorne leave, then turned to Angel. “What’s this about a Mohra demon, now?”

***

There really was nothing like a library. Rows upon rows of knowledge, free for the taking by anyone who cared enough to seek it out. Lydia had spent countless hours in the Council’s libraries, reading books on demonology and medieval weaponry in between Chaucer and Baudelaire.

This particular archive, however, had never been her favorite. Reserved for the oldest, most valuable, and most potent volumes, the dungeon library always gave Lydia a vague feeling of unease. She often found herself glancing over her shoulder, trying in vain to locate the source for her feeling of being watched. A large fireplace near the reading area cast shadows across the granite walls and provided most of the light to the entire dungeon, as maintenance rarely bothered to replace the few fluorescent strips that ran across the ceiling. The entire place had the feel of a mausoleum, though Lydia had to admit she’d been in several less unnerving mausoleums in her lifetime.

Luck was on Lydia’s side for once, because the book Magnus had recommended was in the bookshelf nearest the door. She slid the leather-bound volume from between the surrounding books and carefully opened the fragile book to the first page.

The floor shook violently, throwing her to the floor. Imboden’s Compendium flew from her hand just before one of the large, free standing bookcases cracked in half, spewing books onto Lydia’s prone form.

***

Hank gripped the bed for support as the ground shuddered. When the shaking subsided, he sighed and brushed a few plaster chips out of Buffy’s hair. Earthquakes, those he could handle; they were par for the course in California. Hell, he could probably handle another 7.1 earthquake better than what was going on currently -- at least with natural disasters, Hank knew what to do. But he’d never seen a training film on how to face the possibility of a daughter dying. He turned his attention back to the bed, where Buffy was restrained and heavily sedated.

God, she looked small.

He was so used to seeing her self-sufficient, confident and bubbly, larger than life. He’d forgotten what a small girl she really was.

Pushing some hair off her slack face, Hank silently cursed whatever had chosen Buffy to be a Slayer, taken his little girl and ripped from her hands any chance of a normal life. And now, they had made her into... into some kind of animal. Something to be tied up and drugged. Was this how they rewarded her for saving the world and countless people time and time again?

Hank took her hand into his. It couldn’t end like this. Buffy deserved to be healthy, to enjoy the world that was standing only because of her, and all her sacrifices.

He nearly fell out of his chair when he felt a tap on his shoulder.

“Ack, sorry to startle you.” Willow grimaced.

“It’s okay. I was just....” At a loss for words, he mutely gestured towards Buffy.

Willow nodded. “How is she?”

“I was hoping you could tell me.”

She sat down in the chair next to Hank’s. “We don’t really know much more than we did in Sunnydale. Maybe if the Council wasn’t stonewalling us....”

“Which doesn’t make any sense. Isn’t their entire purpose to help the Slayer?”

“The Council’s entire purpose is to help themselves.”

Hank sighed. “At least we have Lydia and Giles. In fact, Giles stopped by a little while ago. He said Niamh had given him an idea of how to help Buffy.”

“Really?” Willow brightened considerably. “That’s great!” Taking Buffy’s hand into hers, Willow said, “See, Buffy? Giles always comes through.” She turned back to Hank. “Did he mention what the idea was?”

“He muttered something about a book...Mud? The Mud Code?”

Though Hank would never have thought it possible, Willow turned several shades more pale. “Mudge’s Codex?”

“That’s it.”

Willow sprang up so quickly her chair flew backwards. “Stay with Buffy, and whatever you do, don’t leave the house.”

“Okay, but I don’t--”

“There’s no time!” As she muttered a few words in Latin, a shimmering pink cloud erupted from her hands and spread out, covering the room in a haze. Then she quickly turned around and fled the room, leaving Hank alone with Buffy.

***

Up. Down. Up. Down.

Spike’s eyes followed the quarter Angel nervously tossed in the air. Up. Down. Fumble for a catch. Up. Down. When it became obvious Angel had no intention of even making eye contact with him, Spike snatched the coin out of the air and said, “So, let me see if I got this straight. You got some of this Mohra demon’s blood on you, turned human. Pinocchio’s a real boy. Lucky Buffy happens to be in town, gets to enjoy her ex without that pesky curse inhibiting everything resembling fun. And, by the way, I appreciate you not elaborating on that point.” Angel nodded. “So all is well in the land, with you human and Buffy happy. Except the Powers That Be--”

“It wasn’t the Powers. It was the Oracles.”

“Right, they guard the Powers.”

Angel shook his head. “That’s the Conduit. We received messages from the Powers via the Oracles.”

“And now you receive messages from your green-skinned friend?”

“No, Lorne reads people. We usually receive messages through Cordelia’s visions.”

“And she took over from the Oracles?”

“She took over from Doyle. The Oracles were something else altogether.”

Spike whistled. “You know, you lot here in L.A. sure seem to have a lot of ways to contact the Powers. How come they don’t send any messengers over to Sunnydale, give us a head’s up?”

“Do you really think any of the Sunnydale gang would listen to a cryptic demon or higher being who claimed to have information from the Powers That Be?”

“Good point.” Spike took a swig of the beer Lorne had given him before beating a hasty retreat. “Anyway, the Oracles told you that Buffy would die an earlier death if you were human. So they agreed to fold back time for one day, and the second go-round you managed to kill the Mohra demon.”

“That about covers it.”

Spike leaned back and rested the beer on his chest, not caring that the water condensation was leaving a wet ring on his shirt. Wasn’t like Harris was around to crack a joke about breast milk or anything. “Can’t believe Buffy never told me. I mean, seems note worthy, don’t it?”

“Um... yeah, the thing about that is, Buffy doesn’t know.” Off Spike’s puzzled look, Angel closed his eyes and started tossing the coin higher and higher. The last time Spike had seen his grand-sire look so uncomfortable... well, there had been chains involved. But for the life of him, Spike couldn’t remember which time it was. In retrospect, he’d chained Angel up probably a few too many times over the years. Angel finally continued. “I’m the only one with memories of that day. Buffy... it wouldn’t be right, her having to carry that. So I’m the only one.”

“When was this?”

“Right after I got to L.A.”

Spike counted backwards, then nodded. “Makes sense. That was before Dawn. Because there’s no way Buffy’d agree to memory-altering after--”

“She didn’t.” Angel couldn’t meet Spike’s eyes.

Spike felt like someone had pushed ice into his veins, shards of cold whipping around inside his body as he focused his stare at Angel. “Run that by me again?”

“She didn’t agree. I went to the Oracles by myself.” Angel held up his hands. “Now, I know what you’re going to say--”

“You think you do, you bloody ponce,” Spike spat, springing to his feet. He couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Going behind Buffy’s back like that.... “Yeh, just like you knew what Buffy was gonna say, too. So much so, you didn’t even have to ask her!”

“I did what I had to!” Now Angel stood in front of Spike, toe to toe, noses millimeters apart. Spike couldn’t tell if Angel was shaking, or if it only looked that way because Spike was shaking so much. “I did what was needed to keep Buffy safe, something you apparently haven’t been able to do!”

The next thing Spike was aware of were his arms shooting out, sending Angel crashing back into a row of canned peanuts. “Shut it! You have no idea what’s going on!”

“I know Buffy’s sick,” Angel said, pushing himself up. “And I know you’re not telling me everything.”

“Oh right, like how you tried to keep your friend’s vision from me!”

“The vision concerned one of my memories!”

“But he got it from reading me.”

“Well, I didn’t trust you with the information!” Angel snarled. “The Oracles clearly said having a vampire-turned-human boyfriend would put Buffy’s life in danger, and I don’t trust you to walk away from her!”

“Damned straight I wouldn’t! And your Oracles warned against Angel-turned-human. They wouldn’t have sent that vision if they didn’t want me to do anything about it!” Spike punctuated his last sentence by slamming his fist into a row of bottles containing something red, squishy, and possibly living.

A second later, the door popped open and Lorne stuck his head in. “Holy Ninhursaga, it sounds like the cast of Riverdance is practicing back here! And nothing is more horrifying than envisioning Michael Flatley dancing among my peanuts and espaxsas hearts. Could you boys keep it down? There’s a Chorago demon out here who’s liable to try and eat some patrons if you send him off key while he’s singing My Heart Will Go On. And sanctorium spell or no, when a Chorago demon sets his mind on--”

“We’ll try and keep it down,” Angel said.

Lorne nodded and left.

The distraction caused all of Spike’s righteous anger to fizzle out, replaced by the same hollow, heavy feeling that had taken up residence in his chest the night Buffy buried a stake into it. Christ, who knew there’d come a time when he’d tire of fighting with Angel?

Besides, he could see Angel’s point. Kinda. Didn’t know if he’d feel comfortable skulking about making decisions behind Buffy’s back, but if he thought it would save her? Who knows. And joke though he might, Spike could -- begrudgingly -- admit that Angel really did love Buffy. Not like that was a big surprise, anyone who got a glimpse of her heart immediately and fully fell for her. So right now, his main concern was helping Buffy, which meant working with Angel. He sat back down.

This was gonna be fun.

“Angel, listen,” Spike said. “I get that you’re protective of Buffy. She tends to bring that out in people. But she wants to be with me, god help her, and I’m not gonna walk away from her. Ever. So if you want to protect Buffy, make her as happy as she can be, shouldn’t you help me become the best man I can for her? Do anything to make her life just a little easier? Make her happy?” Images flitted across Spike’s mind. Him and Buffy and Dawn walking through a park, feeling the grass between his toes and the sun against his neck. Buffy, in the big frou-frou white gown she’d undoubtedly want for their wedding. Hundreds of domestic bliss scenes that suddenly seemed within reach. Spike looked into Angel’s eyes, pleading with him to make it all come true. “Just help me track down this demon. We’ll talk to him. He says my being human would be harmful to Buffy, we’ll turn around and go home. You have my word.”

Now it was Spike’s turn to sit back and wait for an answer. Luckily, Angel seemed to remember that Spike had about a quarter of his patience, because it only took a moment for him to bend down, pick up the quarter he’d dropped, slip it in his pocket, and bob his head once in assent.

“Okay. You get directions from Lorne, I’ll go home and get backup, then swing by and pick you up in front of here in half an hour.”

Spike watched Angel go, then leaned back and closed his eyes, letting the events of the past hour wash over him. Above the din of emotions and thoughts swirling around inside his head, one phrase kept running by on loop: Make her happy.

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