DL 1.7

Aug. 13th, 2005 01:18 am
[identity profile] eee1313.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] dancing_lessons_archive
Lesson the Seventh: Relativity

by Abby and Peggin
Is it Safe? by Our Lady Peace | Lyrics

Abby & Peggin want to thank the club in general for encouraging them in their madness and for giving them a place to indulge in their obsession. Extra thanks to cousinjean for her input (and for requesting one scene in particular) when the chapter was halfway done.


*
"Oh, God!"

The vision, as always, came on with no warning and was accompanied by a blinding flash of excruciating pain. She would have fallen to the floor if not for the strong arms she suddenly felt supporting her. "No. Oh, no," she cried, as the vision subsided.

"What did you see?"

Cordelia turned to the man who had caught her. "It was horrible, Angel. An entire family; she’s gonna slaughter them."

"She, who?"

"Drusilla," Cordy replied, holding her head in her hands. God, she hated those visions; it felt like her brain might explode.

"How much time?"

"Not much." Cordy filled Angel in on where and when the events in her vision were going to take place, and the vampire turned to leave. "What, are you going after her all by yourself?"

"I have to. After one of those visions, you’re in no condition to fight, and Wesley and Gunn are down at Anne’s shelter. I don’t have time to wait for backup. I have to go now. I have to stop her."

Cordelia couldn’t argue with his reasoning. "Okay. Angel? Hurry."

***

Angel arrived at the address Cordelia had given him just in time to see the family's SUV pulling into the driveway. He hopped out of his car, looking for Drusilla. She had to be nearby, and he had to stop her before she could kill these people. This time, he'd probably have to kill her.

He couldn't help feeling sorry that it had to be this way. Dru had been a good person once, innocent and God-fearing, and he had turned her into a vicious killer. Angel felt a familiar pang of guilt and remorse over the deeds of his past as he looked around, trying to locate his childe; the monster he had created.

He saw her. She was approaching the family as they headed up the sidewalk toward their front door. She was moving toward them at a leisurely pace, as if she hadn’t a care in the world.

"Oh, what a sweet looking little baby. Can I have a peek?" The woman smiled, always proud to show off her child. She held him up for this nice stranger to admire. "Aren’t you precious. I could just eat you up," Drusilla cooed at the baby.

Angel came up from behind and pulled Dru away from the family. "Come along, dear, you know you’re not supposed to go out without taking your medicine." He turned to the family, "She can get violent sometimes. I think you should get in the house. Now."

As the front door closed, Dru turned to Angel. "That was rather naughty of you. You spoiled my fun."

"I’m not going to let you go around killing people, Dru. Not if there’s anything I can do to stop it."

"You’re a very bad Daddy. Always thinking about other people before your own family." Drusilla grabbed Angel by the throat, "And when people are bad, they must be punished."

Angel pushed Dru away and took a swing at her. Drusilla grabbed his arm and swung him around, tossing him into the middle of the street. As Angel attempted to pick himself up, Drusilla snapped a branch off a nearby tree and shoved it through Angel’s chest–– missing his heart by inches.

"When are you coming back to me, Daddy? I know you’re still in there. Someday you’ll come back. I thought you came back to me in that lovely wine cellar, but then you went away again. Why did you have to leave me, Daddy?"

"Dru..." Angel pulled the makeshift stake from his chest; the pain was nearly unbearable. He tried to rise to his feet, but collapsed back down to the ground.

"All the men I love leave me. Now my Spike is lost to me, too. He doesn't love me anymore."

"I thought... you were the one who left him."

"I came back for him, but he wouldn’t have me. My darling boy wouldn't even come to Los Angeles with me. All he can think about these days is your precious little Slayer."

"Buffy?"

"My Spike has always had a thing for Slayers, you know. And now he wants yours. He's decided to go after her, he has."

"Spike is going after Buffy again?"

"Oh yeah. He wants her. He wants her more than he ever wanted those other Slayers."

Angel tried to rise to his feet again, but Drusilla kicked him in his open wound. Angel gasped from the pain. "I should kill you for being so naughty, but I know you haven’t been yourself lately. My Daddy is still in there, and he wants to come back to me. If I kill you, I’ll never get him back."

With that, Drusilla walked away, leaving Angel lying in the street. It was some time before he recovered enough to get in his car and head back to the Hyperion.

***

"I have to go to Sunnydale," was the first thing Angel said to Cordy when he walked through the door.

"Angel! Did you get there in time? Is the family..."

"They got into their house, safe and sound." He headed up to his room, Cordy trailing after him.

"And Drusilla?"

"She got away."

"You let her get away?"

Angel pointed to his bloodstained shirt. "I don’t think ‘let’ is the word I would use."

Cordy watched Angel change his shirt and throw a few things in a bag. "So, why, exactly, do you need to take a sudden trip to Sunnydale?"

"Drusilla–– she said that Spike is out to kill Buffy."

"And this is, what, something new and unexpected?"

"I have to stop him," Angel said as he picked up his bag and headed out the door.

"Geez, what is his problem?" Cordelia asked the empty room. "Buffy’s the Slayer, for god’s sake," she muttered to herself as she headed down to the front desk. "She can handle Spike–– she’s done it before, more times than I can count. Why couldn’t he just call Buffy and warn her?"

She picked up a batch of invoices and turned on her computer before continuing her tirade, "I mean, really! I know he’s been around since before the telephone, but you’d think he woulda figured out what they’re for by now!"

***

Angel was nervous.

It was late and he was wandering the streets of Sunnydale, feeling like an idiot. He knew where to find Spike –– there was no question in his mind. Angel knew he could just slip over there, beat Spike senseless –– kill him, if need be –– and be out of town before anyone was the wiser. Instead, he was walking aimlessly, procrastinating.

He knew she’d be there. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to see Buffy, not exactly. He wanted to make sure that she was okay, that she was handling this situation with Spike. He would have liked to know who else was causing her trouble now, and why, and if he could help. On the other hand, he really didn’t think he could deal with talking to her. He didn’t want to have to lie and tell her everything was fine. He couldn’t face her, not right now; not after everything he’d done in the past few months. Maybe someday he’d tell her, when he could explain it to himself.

He glanced up, and wasn’t entirely surprised to see that he had wandered right up to the cemetery. He scowled, irritated at his temptation to go inside. Maybe she wouldn’t be there, after all. It seemed like a quiet night –– maybe she had gone home early. Cursing himself, he started in around the headstones.

She was there, of course. His expression softened as he caught a glimpse of her blond hair through the darkness. The more things change..., he thought. The sound of her voice startled him, carrying in the stillness. He didn’t see anyone with her; who was she talking to? Maybe she was giving some random vamp his final barbs. He inched closer, trying to get a better view.

Buffy was sitting cross-legged in the grass. She seemed to be talking to a grave.

"I’ve been doing laundry, and cleaning, and cooking... no one’s really thrilled about the whole Buffy cooking thing, though. Except Xander. He’s the only one who likes my chicken. Dawn hates it; she keeps suggesting take-out."

She paused for a moment. Angel feared she’d sensed him, but she just looked away and continued talking.

"I keep waking up and thinking you’re there," she said brokenly, her voice betraying tears. She buried her face in her hands. Without thinking, Angel went to her.

"Buffy."

Her eyes flew open at her name, at the voice, and she stared at him for a moment as if she didn’t understand.

"Angel. How-- uh, what are you doing here? How’d you know?" She stood, looking flustered.

Angel just stared at her, stunned. On some level, he had known when he first saw her sitting there. However, seeing the fresh grave, the date and name on the headstone, the flowers, and Buffy in tears-- it was all just too much.

Joyce was dead.

"I didn’t know," he managed. "My god, Buffy, I had no idea. I’m sorry."

She nodded, her eyes clouding with tears. "I’m glad you’re here," she whispered, and sagged against him as he hugged her.

She drew away suddenly; her face confused. "If you didn’t know, then... why are you here?" He fidgeted; this was a question he didn’t want to answer.

"I’m just passing through," he said, turning away from her. "I’ve got some... business here, before I head back to L.A. What happened to her?"

Buffy’s eyebrows raised slightly. "Okey-dokey. Way to shift gears."

He shrugged. "I want to know what happened," he said, honestly.

She sighed, contemplating the night sky. "Well, to be short and painful about it, she had a brain tumor, she had surgery, she was fine... and then one day, I came home and she was just... gone. They said it was an aneurysm." Angel realized with a start that she looked bitter. She glanced at him, a small smile flickering over her face. "I’m okay, Angel." At the skeptical look on his face, she continued. "Really. I blamed it on myself at first--"

"I’m not surprised," he cut in.

"Yeah, well... anyway, I’ve realized that it wasn’t my fault." She nodded earnestly. "I know it probably doesn’t seem like it right now, but I’m coping. It gets hard sometimes, but... we manage." She smiled. "Dawn’s been doing well lately, going out with her friends again."

"I’m glad to hear it." A look passed over Buffy’s face, just for a second and then disappeared, but Angel caught it.

"What’s wrong?"

"Nothing," she brightened. "So, what’s been going on in Los Angeles?"

"Nothing," he said, quickly. He wasn’t about to share his recent activities with Buffy. "What about you? Any big forces of evil to contend with?"

She laughed, a welcome sound to Angel’s ears. "Oh, yeah. Isn’t there always? Her name’s Glory, she’s pretty... insane."

"Anything you can’t handle?" Another pause, another look crossed her face, and left Angel wondering.

"Nah. It’s no big, really. We’re working on it."

"Good luck with that, then." There was a silence, then, that almost became awkward. Buffy stood, eyeing her mother’s grave, as Angel searched for words.

"This is weird, isn’t it?" Buffy voiced the obvious.

"Yeah." He looked at the ground, and felt her brush by him.

"It shouldn’t be. Just because we’ve gone our separate ways..." She stopped in front of him, and he felt her hand on his arm. "We’re not in love anymore, are we?" She said it softly, but he could hear the smile in her voice. "No, I guess we’re not," she answered her own question in his silence. "It’s like I’ve missed you, but I haven’t missed us. Strange, that doesn’t hurt as much as I thought it would."

"I know," he said, finally meeting her eyes. A look passed between them, regrets mingled with relief. She took his hand.

"I’d like to be friends," she offered, and he managed a small smile.

"You know we’ll always be friends, Buffy. There’s no question about that."

"Good."

Neither of them said anything for several long moments. Then Angel broke the silence. "How are things with you and..."

"Riley?" Buffy interjected. "He’s gone."

"Gone? I thought you were happy with him. You told me you’d finally found someone you could trust."

She laughed again, harshly this time. "I don’t know. Things just weren’t right with us. I guess I wasn’t the kind of girlfriend he wanted me to be. That’s something else I blamed me for, but... I don’t know anymore. I’m not the perfect girlfriend, exactly."

"You’re the Slayer. Life’s not perfect."

"Riley just wanted a more... normal girlfriend, I guess. And I wasn’t it. So, he’s somewhere in the jungles of Belize, and I’m... I’m here."

"That’s his loss. Besides, it’s not your fault."

"Well it is... and it isn’t, too. We just weren’t meant to be. Gotta give the guy credit, though. He knew that long before I did." She stopped suddenly, comprehension dawning on her face. "You know, it’s funny. I hadn’t thought about Riley in a long time, until you brought him up. It’s not like..." Angel knew what she was about to say.

"I didn’t really have to put my heart back together," she finished softly. "I just convinced myself that I did." She smiled a little into the distance. "I’ve learned a lot since you left."

"I can see that," Angel replied. In spite of everything she’d gone through, Buffy looked good–– happy almost. She’d grown up.

"Well, I really should get going," she said. "You know, dark forces of evil to defeat, and all." She hugged him, and he realized how good it felt to know that he wasn’t complicating her life anymore, and making her miserable.

"I’ll see you," he said.

She smiled again. "You can count on it."

Angel felt himself smiling as he watched her go. The smile faded, however, as he remembered why he was here. She needed protection; she was in trouble and obviously didn’t know it. Spike might be impulsive, but he was smart. He would know that Buffy was at her most vulnerable point right now, after her mother’s death. If Spike was going to attack, it would be soon. I’ll be ready for him, Angel thought, as he set off to follow Buffy through the night.

***

Spike was watching Buffy from the shadows. It was something he liked to do when she was on patrol. He loved watching her fight; it was like poetry in motion. He loved just seeing her, even when it was clear she didn’t want to see him. Tonight, however, he sensed something different. Someone else was watching her, too.

He didn’t like that. Ever since her mum had died, the Slayer had been off her game. He knew she could handle herself in a straightforward fight, but Spike was afraid of what might happen if someone took her from behind. He silently moved behind the shadowy figure. As he drew nearer, he was shocked to realize that it was Angel.

What the hell was Angel doing watching Buffy from the shadows? There was no reason Spike could think of why Angel would have to hide from Buffy. Unless... what was it Drusilla had babbled about? She and Darla were working on turning Angel bad again -- what if they had done it? Last time Angel had turned, his major obsession had been hurting Buffy. Now, here he was, following her around, keeping himself hidden.

Without thinking about what he was doing, Spike growled and attacked. The two vampires fell to the ground. Spike, having taken Angel by surprise, gained the upper hand and began pummeling the other vampire in the face.

"You keep away from her, you sodding poofter." It took Angel only a moment to recover from his surprise at the attack. He pushed Spike away and both vampires were quickly on their feet.

"Spike," Angel spat, punching Spike once in the gut and again with an uppercut to his chin. "What the hell do you think you’re doing? Do you really think you have a shot, after all the times she’s kicked your sorry ass?"

Spike gave Angel a good roundhouse kick to the chest, "Yeah? Well at least she never kicked my sorry ass all the way to hell." Angel lunged, tackled, and knocked Spike to the ground.

***

It was late, and Buffy was bored. With the exception of an embarrassingly easy staking of one solitary vamp, there’d been almost no action tonight. Almost. Unless you count running into your ex in a cemetery as action, she thought. That had been strange-- why on earth would Angel be here if he didn’t know about her mother? She sighed, and decided not to contemplate the endless, shadowy possibilities that very question brought up.

A grunt startled her and she whipped around, ready for action. Stake drawn, she approached the two figures battling in the dark. She suddenly realized that they were much too familiar figures.

“What the hell?” Seeing Angel and Spike making a good show of trying to kill each other left her surprised and annoyed. "Hey, hey, hey! What the hell is the matter with the two of you? Break it up. Now." The two vampires pulled apart, looking at each other with daggers in their eyes.

"Okay," Buffy continued, "I want to know what’s going on with you two. Why the sudden urge to rip each others’ heads off?"

Both men looked at Buffy, then pointed accusatory fingers at each other, "He’s here to kill you!" they both shouted simultaneously. All three of them stood there for a moment, uncertain what to make of this bizarre turn of events.

Angel was the one to break the silence. "What? You think I’m here to kill Buffy? Where the hell would you get an idea like that?"

"Well... when Dru was here, she told me she and Darla were trying to make you go all evil again. And, well, I saw you-- lurking about, all stalker-like-- and I just thought..."

"You thought what? That you were going to protect Buffy? From me?" Angel sounded incredulous. "Or was it just that you didn’t want me to get to her first? Dru told me what you’re up to. She told me you’re going after Buffy."

"Well," Buffy said reluctantly, "that may be what Dru said, but I don’t think she meant it the way you seem to think."

"What is this?" Angel asked. "Are you defending Spike?"

"No! Well... I mean... I guess kinda," Buffy had to admit. "He’s been in town for a long time, and he hasn’t been trying to kill me. Not lately, anyway. Besides, even if he wanted to, it’s not like he could actually hurt me. About a year and a half ago, this group of government crazies caught him and stuck some kind of chip in his head. He can’t hurt anyone anymore." She paused, growing more perplexed by the moment. “Dru and... Darla? Are doing what, again?”

Angel waved her off. "I don’t know, Buffy. Dru seemed pretty convinced that Spike wants you. If he doesn’t want you dead, then what, exactly, did she mean by that?"

"Can we not have this discussion? I really don’t want to get into it right now." Buffy paused, then looked at Angel sharply. "Hey, that’s why you really came here, wasn’t it? To protect me from Spike."

"Well..."

"So, you just decided to come here and sneak around behind my back. Again. I can’t believe you." Buffy was livid. "Do me a favor, Angel, next time there’s some grave danger you think you need to protect me from, stay in L.A., pick up a telephone, and tell me about it! I don’t need you coming here to protect me."

"Well, well," Spike smirked. "I guess eternal love wasn’t quite so eternal after all."

Buffy turned to him. "Shut up, Spike."

"Oh, but this is too good to be true," Spike taunted. "With your little soldier boy off somewhere in the jungle, and the poof here out of the picture, it’s only a matter of time before --"

"Don’t... don’t say it!" Buffy shouted. "Oh, god, please, I really can’t handle another of your deluded declarations of love right now."

"What?" Angel asked, looking at Spike. The laughter was barely concealed behind his voice. "Declarations... of..."

"Don’t you say it either!" Buffy was fed up with both of them. "You know what? Go ahead and get back to killing each other. Maybe I’ll get lucky and there’ll be one less of you to drive me insane.” With that, Buffy stalked off, leaving the two vampires alone.

***

Angel turned to Spike. "Declarations of love?"

"Oh, sod off," Spike replied. He turned away and headed off toward his crypt. Buffy mocking his feelings was bad enough. He didn't think he could take hearing it from Angel, too. Angel followed after him.

"I'm not going anywhere until you tell me what you're up to. Last I saw you, you were having me tortured half to death to get that damned ring. Do you really expect me to believe that you've suddenly gone all hero, running around protecting Slayers from harm?"

"You heard what Buffy said about the chip. It keeps me from hurting people," Spike replied, thinking to himself, Or at least it did, before that Glory chippy pulled it out of my head.

"So what? Even if you can't hurt Buffy yourself, the Spike I know would never lift a finger to keep her from getting killed. Hell, the Spike I know would probably bring a bag of popcorn to munch on while he watched it happen."

Spike snorted. "Yeah, well, I used to think so, too."

"Used to?"

"Tried to do it one time. Not the popcorn part, but the rest of it. Bunch of Lei-achs were goin' after her. One of her little friends did a spell that went wrong-- they couldn't see demons-- looked like those Lei-achs'd be able to take her out real easy like. I figured I'd grab myself a ringside seat and watch 'em kill her. Funny thing was, soon as I saw her there, fighting for her life and all... I couldn't let it happen. Next thing I know, I'm jumpin' in there to stop 'em from hurtin' her."

"You saved her?" Spike could feel Angel’s eyes burning holes in him.

"What? Is that really so bloody unlikely?"

Angel laughed, cruel and mocking. "Unlikely? Spike, I’d say it’s more like hilarious. You don’t even have a soul."

Spike jumped with a low growl. He took Angel by surprise, ramming his shoulder into his grandsire’s stomach, the force carrying them both to the wet grass below. Momentarily stunned, Angel was helpless as Spike pummeled his face, blood erupting from his nose and mouth.

"And what would I need a soul for, exactly?" Spike snarled. "So I could break the Slayer’s heart?" He battered Angel mercilessly, wanting to stop the pain building inside of himself. He wanted Angel to pay for his part in creating the soulless monster that Buffy didn’t mind, but would never love. He stepped back, surveying his handiwork-- the other man bent gasping-- and felt a smug smile beginning.

Before Spike knew what hit him, the tables turned. Suddenly he was the one being bruised. Angel dealt him a final, crushing blow to his jaw, leaving him in agony on the ground. He felt his consciousness wavering, only dimly aware of Angel standing over him.

"I don’t know, Spike. You’ve got a chip, right?" His tone was vicious. "Why would you need a soul? God knows you don’t deserve one."

"Oh, and I s’pose you do, you bloody wanker?" Spike’s voice was a harsh whisper, his pain mingling with sudden satisfaction as he realized he’d hit a sore spot with Angel.

Angel appeared to deflate, his face filling with regret. "No. I don’t."

Lucidity finally returned to Spike as he stood, gingerly feeling his swollen jaw. "Guess I should stop callin’ you a sissy, after all. Bloody strong these days."

"Yeah, well, you didn’t do too badly yourself," Angel allowed grudgingly.

Spike grinned sardonically, holding open the door of the crypt. "You comin’ in or not?" Spike asked. "They're showin' Interview With the Vampire on the late movie, and I'm in the mood for a good comedy." He went inside and left the door open, knowing Angel would be right behind him.

Spike rummaged in the refrigerator. "Care for a bag of blood? It’s pretty high quality. A few days old, y’know, but it doesn’t hurt."

Angel regarded him in silence.

"I’m not going to poison you," Spike said, indignantly. "If I wanted to kill you, I’d have beat you to death. A man’s got to have his dignity." Angel nodded, finally, and Spike tossed him a bag, grabbing one for himself. The men sat and drank in silence, the darkness heavy between them.

Angel stared at Spike long and hard before asking, "So, what's the deal with this chip Buffy was talking about? Does it really keep you from hurting people?"

Spike heard the skepticism in the other vampire’s voice, and smirked. "You shoulda been there the first time I realized what was up. It was ‘bout a year and a half ago. This government group zapped me with somethin’ or other, knocked me out. When I came to, I was locked up in this cell somewhere underground. Broke out, and all I could think about was finding the Slayer... you know, killin’ her. Came upon her little friend the witch instead. Tried to bite her, and suddenly I'm hit with this incredible, searing pain. Soon as I stopped, so did the pain. Tried it again a few times before it hit me what was goin’ on."

"And, what, as soon as you realized you couldn’t hurt anyone, you decided to play hero instead?"

"Hell, no. I spent a long time trying to get the chip out. Wanted to go back to all the violence and the killin’. Just a few months ago, I thought I found a way to do it. There was this doc down at the hospital, supposed to be a real expert in tinkering around in people’s brains. Got a bit of help and persuaded the bloke to operate. He told me that he’d done it; that the chip was gone. He was lyin’ a’course, but soon as I thought that blighted chip was gone, first thing I did was try to kill the Slayer."

"Exactly which part of this story is supposed to be making me believe you’ve changed?"

Spike continued as if Angel hadn’t spoken. "Then, later that night, I had this dream. I guess you could say it was kind of an... epiphany." A strange look crossed Angel’s face at the word. Spike continued quietly, as if he hardly believed it himself, "Took me a while to sort it all out... but I guess the reason I’ve always been so obsessed with her wasn’t as much about wantin’ her dead as I always thought."

"And you’re saying you’re in love with her now." Angel’s eyes narrowed, disbelieving.

"Yeah," he nodded. "Yeah, I am. I can’t tell you how much I hate the idea of her being with anyone else. Thinking about you, and how close you used to be to her... you can’t imagine how many times I wished you dead. You and that soldier boy she used to go with. What the hell was he thinking? He had her, and that wasn’t good enough for him. He has to go off behind her back and pay vamp whores to bite him. What a sodding moron." Spike shifted, irritated, and then grinned suddenly. "The chip always kept me from killing Captain Cardboard, but you-- you I could kill."

Angel smirked. "You already tried twice tonight, and both times I kicked your ass. You want to try again? Maybe you’ll get lucky this time.”

Spike eyed Angel thoughtfully for a moment. "Nah. Guess my heart’s just not in it anymore. "I thought I could do lots of nasty things even with the chip, and I could've, I guess– just seemed like every time I was doin’ something all noble instead." He lowered his eyes away from Angel. "She brought her mom and kid sis over here, left ‘em with me to keep ‘em safe."

"Are you serious?"

"Yeah, and I did, too. The thought of hurting ‘em never crossed my mind. Not only that, but I actually went out of my way to help Buffy find li’l bit one night. Tracked her down at the hospital– that Glory chippy was there, and I even helped in the fight. Well, sort of," he shrugged defensively. "That Glory’s one strong bird– knocked me out almost as soon as I joined the fray. Still, should get some credit for the effort and all that."

Angel reluctantly agreed to Spike’s point. He’d tried to help, and that counted for something.

"For a while there, I really thought Buffy was starting to trust me, what with all the times she came to me for help and all. Then I bollocksed it up... told her how I felt." Spike briefly considered and rejected the idea of telling Angel about that night. He didn’t think the knowledge that he had locked Buffy up in chains and threatened to let Dru eat her would do much to convince Angel that he really had changed. "She wasn’t exactly leaping for joy at the notion of me bein’ in love with her, I can tell you."

"What did you expect?" Angel asked. "After all the times you’ve tried to kill her and her friends, did you really think that two or three good deeds were going to make her fall in love with you?"

"Suppose not," Spike admitted. "Still, a bloke’s gotta try. Can’t just pretend I don’t feel anything; can’t make it all go away. No matter how much she may hate me, I still love her." Spike laughed ashamedly. "I tried to kiss her the other day. Barely touched her lips before she rammed a stake into my chest. Missed the heart. Obviously. Said she missed it on purpose."

"Buffy staked you... but she didn’t kill you. She deliberately missed your heart?"

Spike heard the amusement in Angel’s voice. "It’s not funny, mate. Might not have killed me, but it hurt like hell."

"I just think it’s kind of funny, my ex-girlfriend staking you like that without killing you. Your ex just did the same thing to me last night."

"Dru staked you?"

"Deliberately missed the heart, just like Buffy did to you."

"Weird. Must be some kind of epidemic." He grinned in spite of himself at Angel, who was suddenly watching him closely, and appeared to be searching for words.

"Spike?" Angel asked hesitantly.

"Yeah?"

"You seem to have been... around Buffy a lot. Now I don’t know if you’re making this stuff up or not, but I’m gonna give you the benefit of the doubt here and say you aren’t."

"Oh, how touching of you," Spike replied.

"How is Buffy?" Angel asked, worry in his voice. "I know she looks okay, and she sounds good, but I kept picking up on something when we talked earlier. It wasn’t her mother-- it was something else."

Spike shrugged. "She’s got a lot on her plate, what with protecting kid sis from the big bad Glory."

"Yeah, well. Buffy’s always been worried about Dawn," Angel replied. "What is she... fourteen now? I guess some things really don’t ever change, do they?"

"No," Spike agreed. With a start, he realized Angel didn’t know about Dawn. Why wouldn’t Buffy have told him? It was Angel, after all. He would have helped her fight Glory, but she had kept it from him.

Spike stood. He walked over to his refrigerator, deliberately putting space between Angel and himself. So he knew the biggest fear in Buffy’s life, and Angel had no idea. She’d had the opportunity to tell him, and had let it pass by. Did she not trust Angel anymore? There were so many questions, and suddenly Spike didn’t have answers to any of them. Spike knew that Dawn was a Key, and Angel didn’t. Even though Buffy hadn’t been the one to tell him, she was aware that he knew, and she hadn’t told Angel. Spike felt absurdly happy with the knowledge that he had something of Buffy’s that Angel didn’t. For the first time he allowed himself to believe the possibility that maybe things between he and Buffy really had changed, somewhere along the way.

"So you haven’t noticed anything wrong with her?" Angel’s voice startled him from his reverie.

"What? Uh... no. Whatever it is, I don’t think you should worry about it; she’s a big girl, she can take care of herself."

"Well, she certainly doesn’t need you trying to take care of her. I don’t care what you’re trying to do, Spike. You’d probably just get her killed either way. Oh, and if you ever do hurt her, by the way, I’ll kill you."

"Yeah, I know. I got this routine down by now, mate." Spike smirked, remembering Riley and similar warnings. "Doesn’t matter, anyway; she’ll never love me. Look, I’m really not in the mood to hash over all my shortcomings, a’right?"

Spike got out a cigarette, lit it, and took a long drag before turning back to Angel. "You know, I don’t get you. She loved you, man. Not like the way she deluded herself about lovin’ that blighted soldier boy, but loved you-- for real. And you just walked out on 'er." He paused, judging Angel’s reaction before continuing. The other man’s face was unreadable. "How could you do it?" he continued. "Why would you? If it was me, mate, if she loved me like that, I’d do anything it took to hold on to her for as long as she’d have me."

"I wanted her to have a normal life. That’s something I could never give her."

"Oh, please!" Spike scoffed. "She’s the bleeding Slayer for pity’s sake... what part of her life is ever gonna be normal?"

"I don’t know, but I wanted her to have that chance. I sure as hell didn’t walk away so she could end up with the likes of you."

"No, that’s not it, mate." Spike shook his head and took another draw on his cigarette. "You walked away because you couldn’t handle it. The whole ‘ooh, if I get too close to her, I might lose my soul again’ was just too much for you to handle."

"What if that was part of it? I’m supposed to turn around and give you my blessing?"

"No. Just sayin’, there’s a difference here, is all. I was there when you lost your soul, remember? God, how you hated her. Really hated her for making you feel like a person." Spike smiled, shaking his head, hardly believing what he was about to say. "Thing is, I may not have one of your curse-d souls, but that’s one of the things I love best about her." Spike closed his eyes, sighing softly, "She makes me feel alive. When I'm with her, sometimes I can almost feel my heart beating."

***

Angel sat, staring wordlessly at Spike for a long time. He didn’t know what to make of any of it. He was almost willing to believe that the changes in Spike were real. The other vampire had certainly sounded sincere enough when he was speaking about how Buffy made him feel. Besides, Buffy had stood up for Spike, however reluctantly. She seemed to believe that Spike wasn’t out to kill her.

He had a hard time accepting it, however. Not just because it was such a radical change from the Spike he remembered, but because it made him question himself. If the changes in Spike were real-- if Spike was genuinely capable of rejecting evil, even without a soul -- then what did that say about him? When he had lost his soul, it would never have even occurred to him to try to do good things. As Angelus, he would have considered the very thought of doing good things an abomination. Even with a soul, he hadn’t always made the right choices. Considering some of the things he had done in the past few months, Angel supposed he wasn’t in any position to judge.

"You were right before, you know." Angel said, his voice soft and sad.

"‘Bout what?"

"About me not deserving a soul. I don’t. Even with my ‘curse-d soul’... I’ve done some questionable things." Angel paused for a minute, considering how much he should share with Spike. "There’s this bunch of lawyers back in L.A. They’ve been doing their best to drive me insane, make me go dark again. I guess it worked, at least for a while, because a couple of months ago I locked the whole lot of them in a wine cellar with Darla and Dru."

Spike gaped at him. "You did what?" he laughed mockingly. "You? Mr. High and Mighty?"

"It’s not funny, Spike, I’m trying to tell you something here."

"Hey, you brought it up, mate."

"Yeah, I know. I was just trying to say how ironic it is-- you, without a soul and helping out a Slayer. Me with one, locking that door, knowing Darla and Dru were going to kill all those people. Leaving innocent people to die."

"Innocent?" Spike asked. "I thought you said they were lawyers."

Angel sighed. "That doesn’t matter. That doesn’t change what I did or make it okay."

"So, that’s what it took, huh? For you to finally admit that havin’ a soul isn’t the be-all and end-all of good?" Spike’s laughter rang harshly through the dim room. "You poor sod -- I would’ve given you credit for knowing better than that. Haven’t you ever looked at the world around you? Human beings do more evil to each other than most vampires could ever dream of."

"I know. I mean, now I do. I never really saw it before... not until recently. I wanted to find redemption so badly, and I thought that becoming human again was the answer. Then... it’s a long story, but my eyes were opened. I saw, really saw, that everyone has some evil in them. Even me." Angel got up and began pacing. "I never wanted to believe that. I wanted to believe that, since I got back my soul, the evil was gone. But it isn’t; it’s still there, inside of me, right where it’s always been. Becoming a vampire, losing my soul, that didn’t make me evil... it just allowed the evil that was already there to have free reign."

"Are we going somewhere with this, Peaches, or are we just wallowing in a good brood?"

Angel shot him an annoyed look. "I’m trying to say that I don’t know anymore. I used to be so sure that having a soul made all the difference between being good and being evil. Now... I just don’t know." Angel sat back down and looked at Spike intently. "A few weeks ago I was talking to a friend about all this. I told her I wasn’t sure anymore if there was a grand scheme to it all. I said that I just want to help people, because sometimes the smallest acts of kindness can be the greatest thing in the world. And now, here you are, you, telling me that you’ve been doing things to help people. Small acts of kindness..." Angel fell silent again, uncertain of how to continue. "I guess what I’m trying to say is that... I don’t know anymore," he repeated. "Maybe you really have changed."

Spike lit a cigarette and sat silently, watching his grandsire as if waiting for him to finish.

"There was someone, one of those lawyers I told you about." Angel sighed, then continued, "He came to me for help last year, said he wanted out of that law firm, but he couldn’t do it alone. I tried to help him, but he ended up going back to them. For a long time, I thought it was just him, but lately... maybe it was me. Maybe I could have done more. Last time I saw him, I told him as much, told him I was sorry I didn’t try harder to help him."

At this point, Spike broke in. "You can’t go blamin’ yourself for everyone else’s bad choices. You’re just addicted to the guilt trip, aren’t you?"

"I just don’t ever want to have to say that to someone again," Angel responded. "I don’t know if you’ve really changed, or if this is all just some kind of elaborate scheme." Angel paused again, then looked back at Spike intently. "But I don’t want to be sorry that I didn’t try harder to help you. If there’s even a chance that you really are trying to change, I don’t want to stand in your way. I want to help." Angel paused again. "I’m going back to Los Angeles. I came here thinking I was gonna have to kill you, but now, after all this, I guess I’ll be letting you live. For now, anyway. If you’re serious about changing, and you think you need help getting there, call me and I’ll be there for you."

Spike looked stunned. "You know, back after I first got Turned, I spent years trying to get you to approve of me. Some of the most horrid things I’ve ever done, I did because I wanted you to be... well, proud of me."

"Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, Spike."

The younger vampire looked down at the floor uncomfortably. "It’s just... the fact that you’re willing to give me a chance now... it means a lot to me, mate."

Angel crossed to the door, opened it, and then turned back. "I will help you if you need it, Spike. But make no mistake about it. You’ve run out of second chances. If this turns out to be some convoluted plot to get to Buffy, I’ll be back, and this time I won’t leave until one of us is a pile of dust."

"Wouldn’t have it any other way..." Angel started to close the door, but heard Spike get in one final dig "... you big poofter." Angel shook his head as he walked back to his car. This night had not turned out the way he expected. He still wasn’t sure what to think of Spike’s transformation. Buffy had called his declarations of love "deluded", and maybe she was right. Maybe having that chip in his head had made Spike completely lose his mind. But... maybe, just maybe, it was real. Maybe Spike really did have it within him to be good. Angel just didn’t know anymore. Only time would tell.

He started his car and put a cassette in the tape player. As he headed toward the highway, he decided, what the heck, it was the middle of the night and there was nobody around to hear.

If anyone had been standing on the side of the road, they would have heard a male voice singing, completely off-key, "...Well you came and you gave without taking, but I sent you away, oh Mandy..."

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