'So what's his problem?' Cordelia mooched into her coffee, unable to understand why Spike and Angel had left so abruptly, especially when they'd just been given such amazing news. 'Cordy, I'm guessing that subtlety is just one of the many talents you missed out on when you didn't go to finishing school.' Xander spread his hands wide on the table. 'Undead person. Living person. They don't.....gel.' Cordy rolled her eyes. 'Excuse me? Where were you when the great Buffy/Angel star-crossed thing was going on?' Xander nodded. 'Oh I was there, and I remember how it ended.' 'End of the world, big scary stone statue swallowing Angel into Hell?' The boy wondered just how much attention Cordelia actually paid to problems that were NOT MINE. He'd decided a long while ago, pretty much as soon as he'd understood what problems were, that the pretty girl with the limited edition Barbie purse edited problems into MINE and NOT MINE. She probably thought of them in capital letters as well. And he bet that anything dropped in the second pile pretty much floated down the river to rest with everything else that didn't have to concern her. Time hadn't done anything to make NOT MINE any more important, but MINE had expanded enough to include her friends, what few she had...even if it still came down to - how will this affect me? 'Cordy, not the Hell thing...after that.' She looked genuinely puzzled. 'You mean the "we can never see each other again because it's too hard", though what he was doing with her still stuns me - the woman couldn't co-ordinate a pencil case.' Ignoring the jibe, Xander pushed forward, hoping that something would sink in. She wasn't stupid...just obsessed with the most important person in her life. 'Yeah, the not seeing each other thing.' 'So?' I actually have feelings for this woman? 'So when Angel gets a heartbeat, he's going to want to do human things...like go for a walk in the day...eat pizza.' 'Spike eats pizza, now...and he puts brown sauce on it...can you say eww?' Xander tried hard not to lose his temper. Was she just playing him, making him explain what she already knew or had her ego turned completely inside itself?' 'Yeah, okay, so the pizza thing isn't exactly a problem, but Angel...he's going to get old...' She blinked at him and he thought of the anti-wrinkle, anti-ageing, anti-changing-from-the-way-I-look-now creams that stood on the shelf above the basin. Growing old had to be one of the few things that kept her awake at night. Maybe that's what she'd been dreaming about when he'd ambled in blearily from the sofa, finding her shivering and wide eyed. After checking for the obvious - monsters, burglars, hideous pimple on the end of her nose - he'd patted her reassuringly and moved to the door. At the point when she should have spoken up and said, 'don't leave me alone tonight,' he'd heard her start snoring. Wondering what had happened to good romance in real life, Xander slumped on the sofa and fell asleep. But the following morning, instead of demanding he get his 'lazy ass up' and stopped 'making my apartment look untidy', breakfast had sat on the table, complete with do-nuts and full fat coke. There was always hope. 'He's going to get old? Oh right...I get you, now. Spike's not going to like the wrinkly version.' Her face grimaced in horror. 'Oh God!' 'What?' 'Angel with liver spots...' She got up and walked out of the room, obviously heading for Doyle's tiny bathroom to check her perfect complexion, to make sure that none of the horrors of age had descended yet. Xander blinked, unsure how he'd failed so completely to make his point, and slammed his head onto the table. 'Ow.' 'Shouldn't do that if I were you, Xander.' He lifted his head as Doyle sat down at the tiny table, perching atop of the only other stool that wasn't fixed with gaffa tape. He had a mug of something that steamed, and Xander found himself wondering how often he'd seen that. In the office, drinking other things had been excusable, but at home...he'd only been here a couple of times and Doyle usually carried a bottle in one pocket and a tub of headache tablets in the other. It's too close to home, too close to family. It's just too close. 'Doyle.' The Irishman grinned, but his eyes weren't focussed on him - Xander turned to see Wesley walk past, books up to his chin, the ancient scrolls held on with his little finger. He was checking and rechecking the scrolls, but they knew somehow that he'd translated the true meaning. Angel would do his duty, and as a reward, the Powers that Be would make his heart beat again. And Spike, if he even bothered to stick around, would have to watch as Angel grew old and wither away. Would have to go on without him. And there was such a bleak certainty about it that made Xander want to scream. I hated him, I hated him because Buffy couldn't see beyond his brooding looks and puppy-dog expressions. I hated him because he was one of them, because he was such a knife edge and no-one would see it but me. I hated him because he had everything I wanted, and he couldn't act on it. He had the opportunity, but not the skill. And I had... There was a hollow scream from the bathroom and Xander figured she'd noticed the tiny zit that threatened her temple. Doyle looked at him, puzzled at his lack of concern and Xander shrugged. 'Woman stuff...don't go there.' The half-demon nodded and sipped his coffee. 'Don't think we'll be hearing from them two for a while.' 'Define while. Are we talking a whole weekend of last minute...er...stuff that they have to do. Or am I looking for a new job already?' With a worryingly understanding grin, Doyle slurped his coffee. 'Wouldn't worry about your job just yet...Wes thinks that "soon" in PTB terms is more on a "years" scale.' 'Oh.' Xander gestured toward the door. 'You think they know that?' 'Shouldn't think it'd matter.' 'Why?' Doyle finished his coffee and looked past Xander to where Wesley was reading through yet another text, before turning back to the boy. 'They think in the those terms anyway. And from what Spike said, they'd got an idea of a little rest home for old vamps, just this side of eternity.' Xander shrugged. 'So what now? You think Spike'll turn him when he gets his humanness?' 'If he wants Angellus, yeah. Otherwise I'm thinking that'll be it.' 'It?' 'The end. I can't see Spike hanging around to watch Angel die.' Xander tapped the table absently. 'What about the...er...love thing.' Doyle blinked and he hastily tried to explain. 'The whole, Angel loves Spike forever thing?' The half-demon strayed toward Wesley again and spoke quietly. 'He left Buffy, didn't he?' Xander stared at the crack in the table as he tried to take it in. He'd always known that there was no such thing as everlasting love, or even, moderately lasting affection. But here was a place where the strange could become normal and the afflicted could become the heroes. Here was a place where dreams, as flimsy as they were, could come to pass. And he'd wanted in on that. There would never be a time that he'd call Angel his friend, never be a moment in which the old hate wouldn't come to the fore and assert itself. But this version of the fanged wonder was so much less threatening, that even Xander had to admit to rare moments of liking him. Okay, so the man has to turn gay and hook up with one of the baddies before I even think - now he's an okay kind of guy. He shuddered. My values are seriously twisted. The door buzzer rang out and Doyle got up, reaching in his pants for his wallet. 'Pizza?' asked Xander. Doyle nodded and walked over to the door as Cordelia came out of the bathroom, damage apparently averted and ready once more to face the world. 'No anchovies, no onion and make sure the base is lightly risen...I can't take it crispy.' She stared at Xander, who'd been silently appraising her frequently exasperated, immaculate face. 'What?' 'Nothing,' he drawled, 'Just wondering why we broke up.' 'Because you were schtupping your supposed best friend.' Xander blinked, brought back to reality with frightening ease. 'We were not schtupping. I have never schtupped.' She raised an eyebrow and smiled at him. 'Never?' How, just tell me how I manage to get myself into these conversations every time? 'Oh...oh...I have schtupped, in fact, there was that time when...and I...uh...Faith.' She actually chuckled. And there was no help from Wesley, as he'd actually taken time away from the books to help Doyle with the food. 'Faith? User of little men and the Mayor's groupie?' Her grin widened. 'Oh yeah, Xander, I'd publish that one everywhere.' Xander swallowed hard. 'And Anya...I...was having a pretty cool boyfriend, girlfriend thing going there.' She choked. 'The demon girl!' That's it. Xander got to his feet and shook a finger at her. 'Okay, enough. Anya is...was my girlfriend and you're the one who ended up pregnant with a demon spawn thing.' 'Like that compares?' He drew close enough to hear her breathing quicken and tried to stare her out. 'I'd say so, yeah.' 'Would you now?' They stayed like that, neither blinking, neither moving and aware that there were lines being drawn here. Aware that this felt too familiar to just walk away from. They were still staring when Wesley's panicked tones echoed from the hall. 'Oh God! Phone for an ambulance!' They looked to see him carrying Doyle in, pain wracked and probably vision prone. Cordelia tilted her head. 'They didn't have the right dip, did they?' Wesley laid Doyle's body on the sofa and scrambled for the basin, grabbing a cloth as Xander picked up the phone. The half-demon was fitting, spikes sinking in and out of his face. 'So do I phone 911, or what?' Wesley damped down the cloth and hesitated, trying hard not to panic. 'What? Er...no...no. Oh...hmm.' Cordelia took the phone off the nervous Xander and began to key in a number. 'Look, I'll take care of it. Dr Sussman seems to keep a regular line of non-human patients.' As she spoke to the suspicious receptionist, Xander hesitated, wondering what he could do. He hated these moments, hated feeling useless, but... 'Xander, go, find Spike, find Angel. Tell them what's happened,' said Wesley firmly. The raw note of terror was still there, but buried deeper, waiting for the right moment to show up. 'Tell them there's a mark...the back of his hand...tell them...' 'Okay, I'm going.' He grabbed his coat and headed for the door, hesitating at the pile of papers Wesley had dropped in his effort to bring Doyle in to safety. 'Wes?' 'What? You should be gone!' Xander shook his head. 'The scrolls. What did you do with them?' And the ex-watcher looked at the empty space where they should be. Doyle squirmed again and Wesley struggled to hold him down, to do something, anything to relieve the pain. His eyes met Xander's and the boy nodded. 'Go, find the vamps, mark, scrolls, I got it.' Cordelia was just finishing up on the phone and he almost felt sorry for the receptionist. Almost, but her family wasn't falling apart. Was it? *
Don't think. Whatever you do, don't think. Spike rolled over, his thighs aching, his back daring him to try and do anything more athletic than lie down. Angel was snoring lightly next to him, cover draped somewhere over his belly, an easy smile on his lips. And if he hadn't been trying so hard not to think, Spike would have allowed himself a smug grin - shagged the bugger till he couldn't take it anymore. Only he isn't going to take it anymore, is he? With a growl, the younger vampire attempted to sit up, a groaning pain in his belly reminding him how long they'd gone without a drink. They'd even skipped pizza at Doyle's, desperate to get back here, to count down the hours until Angel became human. He snorted at his own sense of hopelessness. William the Bloody brought low by the idea of losing his lover. Like there shouldn't be a hundred different asses available in a hundred different cities. There were, and as long as he didn't reveal his little 'problem', he could think of six or eight off hand who'd be prepared to bend over. Trouble was, Spike had never really gone for the easy lay...except very occasionally when his ego needed a boost. It never brought him the same satisfaction as when he was sleeping with his equal, and no one had ever brought him to the same heights as Angel. There wasn't a single moment outside his sire's arms when believed in heaven. And he was going to have to give it up. Even if he stayed, lived as Angel's vampire lover whilst the all-new, all-guilt-free version of his sire learnt how to live as a human, they had a finite time together. And he would have to watch as Angel grew old, lines wrinkling his face. He would watch as his legs started to fail him, brown eyes fading with age as one by one, his senses failed him. He would have to watch him die. And all of that was a best case scenario. Spike pulled the sheet from his body and got up, determined not to think about it anymore. Nothing he could say or do could... Well, there was that. He could always turn the man, reversing that oh-so-interesting sire/childe relationship. He chuckled at the idea. It was a pleasant daydream, but one that would definitely end in his undead ass getting kicked from here to...well, as far as Angellus could kick it. Five minutes of gratitude, that's all he'd get, and then the newly emerged vampire would set upon world domination once more. Which didn't leave a lot of time for sex. Pulling a crumpled cigarette from the remains of his coat, Spike sat by the table, waiting for the familiar ding of the microwave. Surely there had to be another option aside from the slightly crazy idea of bringing Angellus back. There had to be another way, an choice that didn't make him watch his lover die. There had to be a way, but he couldn't think of it. He sniffed and turned his mind to the possibility of having a human lover. There were advantages, naturally - a nice warm body to hold, blood pulsing in that intoxicating rhythm that drew him in, bringing the demon to the fore, screaming to be fed. There was a certain pleasure in feeding from a mortal lover and Spike grinned at the prospect, before reality hit home with a vengeance. There wasn't going to be any feeding, or any vague threats. The chip had seen to that, rendering him impotent before Angel, subject to his will once more. Not that Angel would push it, of that he was certain. Fairly certain anyway. But there had to come a day when Angel would want to experience everything humanity had to offer. Wouldn't he need to know what a life without shadows felt like? Daylight, food, a social life... Spike snorted. Wouldn't the bugger want a family? The microwave signalled his drink was ready and Spike picked both mugs up, heading over to the bed where Angel was stirring. The dark vampire blinked, then smiled easily at Spike's weight on the mattress. 'Been up long?' Spike shook his head. 'A bit. Been hungry - we walked out before pizza.' Angel chuckled and tried to sit up, obviously trying to take things easy. He took the mug from Spike and sipped at it, watching as the blond vampire attempted a grin. 'Still thinking about...' 'No. Not thinking about it at all, love.' Angel brushed his hand across the exposed thigh, touching nerves that never seemed satisfied. 'I have.' Spike looked up, not entirely surprised. 'Thought you might. Come on then, what's your big solution?' 'I don't have a big solution. I've just been thinking.' Spike nodded. 'A novelty, I'll grant you. So what've you come up with?' Angel paused and tapped the side of his mug. 'I want Wesley to look over the manuscript again...' '...like he hasn't looked over and over it already. Grasping at straws, mate.' '...And if he couldn't find any mistake in the translation, then maybe...' Spike waited for Angel to come up with something he hadn't thought of. He'd rather grasp at straws than face the possibility of losing Angel for good. Perhaps there was a loophole - Powers that Be seemed fond of them. There should be something... Angel sagged. 'I don't know. I can't think of anything.' Spike slurped back a good amount of blood and regarded Angel carefully. 'That's it? That's you out?' He frowned. 'Bugger me, I thought you'd have something better than "I don't know".' Angel shrugged. 'I don't know, Will...' 'Huh!' '...What do you want me to say? That I don't want this? That this reward is a punishment to me?' He breathed out heavily. 'That I already have what I want and I'm damned cause they're taking that away from me?' Spike looked at the intent gaze and risked a grin. 'Well it would help.' Angel huffed and leaned back against the pillows. 'I want you.' The blond grinned and rested his hand on the flat of Angel's belly. 'I know, pet, I know.' Angel shook his head. 'I don't just mean the sex...I mean, yeah, the sex, but, I...' He shrugged. 'I can't imagine waking up without smelling you.' 'I'll bottle the odour.' 'And feeling you next to me? How are you going to manage that?' 'Shop dummy?' Angel laughed in spite of the deep routed pain in his chest. 'Well it would be quieter.' Spike grinned. 'Yeah, but it's hardly going to stop you brooding.' He regarded Angel's sorrowful expression and rolled his eyes. One of them had to stay upbeat. One of them had to see the plus side, or it would be depression and sackcloth all over the apartment. Spike slid his hand up to reach Angel's brow, trying to smooth out the frown-lines. They were fading, gentle marks round his eyes taking their place. He'd not aged since Darla took his lifeblood, but time hadn't left him entirely unblemished. In a little over half a year, Spike had seen Angel grow less worried by what he was. He laughed, he smiled, he suggested wicked things at inappropriate moments. He had noticed Angel allowing himself to get involved with people, and as much as it irked Spike that their constant companions were human, he'd also grown used to having them around. More than that, he'd come to regard them as part of his clan. The big MINE he liked to plaster over everything. Throwback to a time when MINE had consisted of little more than his bootlaces? Maybe, but William the Bloody rampaged once more, and if his victims were demons, so be it. He was happy, he liked where he was, and amazingly, who he was with. And he was certain above everything else, that this is where he was supposed to be - a place where Angel belonged to him, and he belonged to Angel. Somewhere when all vampire lore had left the building and they were creating a whole new definition to the term vampire. Bloody Anne Rice. Only thing she'd missed out on was the sex...well that and the notion that vampires could regret. You needed a soul to regret, and since he had none, Spike saw no point dwelling in the past. But Angel was stuck there, endlessly wishing he had been a better man, that he hadn't been such a bastard of a vampire. And if they made him human, he'd live that life wishing for something else. Brown met blue and Spike nodded. He'd wish that they still had this. 'I wouldn't leave you, pet.' 'I know...' 'But?' Angel covered Spike's hand. 'But I don't want to leave you.' And death was everywhere, threatening them in such an immediate way that there was nowhere to hide. Angel's reward was his humanity, and the loss of a life in shadows. It wouldn't make either of them happy. 'Right,' said Spike, reaching over for another cig. 'We're going to see them wankers and talk a bit of sense into them.' 'Wankers?' 'Powers that Fuck About.' Angel shook his head. 'They're not interested in what we want...or don't want. We're lesser beings.' Spike raised his eyebrows as he lit up the cig. 'Lesser fucking beings? We're vampires, love. Gods, remember?' The dark vampire nodded, and Spike pressed on. 'Anyway, if you say you won't do it anymore if they don't change their minds, they'll have to do something, won't they?' 'Do it?' 'The good bloody fight. Healing the sick...arsing about in pretty clothes. You ix nay it and they'll have to pay attention.' 'Or kill us where we stand.' Spike puffed out a cloud of smoke and grinned. 'Rather die on my feet than pander to their bloody whims.' He waved the tip at his lover. 'You tell them it's all off if they give you a heartbeat, and watch them scribble in the small print.' Angel hesitated before shaking his head. 'They won't listen, Will. They're even more selfish than you.' He qualified his answer as Spike glared at him. 'More selfish, less interesting ass.' The blond chuckled and rolled on his side, baring the tattooed skin to Angel's eyes. 'My best bloody feature.' Angel nodded. 'Not denying that for an instant.' He sighed. 'But the Powers that Be...they're not going to be swayed by a good ass.' He paused, as though remembering something. 'Well probably not, anyway.' Spike rolled back over and faced him, lips brushing briefly against Angel's own. 'Worth a try, eh, love?' Angel kissed him, tasting the ash and alcohol, tasting the drying sweat from their recent exertions. They'd allowed him Spike, allowed him to work at something that could last eternity, only to tell him that this was just the pre-show. That learning humanity from his childe was only a step toward his redemption. It didn't make sense to him. What he wanted was forgiveness, but what he needed was Spike. Anything else was simply punishment. Spike pushed against him and felt Angel respond, although his mind was clearly elsewhere. This was what it was going to be like, until the reward kicked in - snatched moments, desperately trying not to think about how long it would last. And Spike didn't know if he could take the morbidity. They took chances everyday, and either one could be killed at any time - that was a risk they both accepted, believing that luck and skill were both on their side. But to have *this* in front of them, glaring with certainty - that was unbearable. He was about to press seeing the Oracles, when Xander came running down the stairs, breathless, cheeks red with exertion. Spike watched with amusement as the boy recognised both their nakedness and proximity, turning away so that he was addressing the kitchen. 'Doyle...' he panted. 'No - Spike, pet. You should recognise the difference.' He could see Xander squirming in effort not to let the vampire get to him. '...is ill.' Angel got to his feet and reached in the drawer for some clothes. 'What's the matter with him?' 'Don't know - looked like he was having a vision...or a fit or something.' He risked turning around, saw Angel bending over to put his pants on and closed his eyes. 'Don't you two ever do anything else?' 'Yeah,' grinned Spike as he reached for his tattered jeans. 'Sometimes we beat up the pathetic, just for fun.' 'Oh yeah...well if you could actually lay a finger on me I'd be scared, but let's face it, Defanged boy, you can't even lick me to death.' Angel stood, facing the boy, shadowed in the darkness of the apartment. 'The only one his tongue touches is me.' Spike chuckled and pulled his jeans on, the colour draining from Xander's face. 'Love it when you get possessive, pet.' The side of Angel's mouth tilted in a half-smile. 'I thought you might.' 'Okay, enough! We have a problem here.' The vampires turned back to Xander, registering his discomfort, both wondering how to increase it. 'Doyle,' reminded the boy. 'Had a vision,' said Angel. 'About what?' He reached for his shirt, saw the gaping holes in it and yanked open the closet in search of another. 'About nothing, I don't know.' 'Full of knowledge, aren't you, mate?' Xander scowled at Spike. 'Okay then, Mr...Brain, you get a description out of someone who's still rolling about the floor.' 'He's still in the vision?' 'Duh!' Angel flipped down the collar of his shirt and hastily found the last of his clothes. 'Why didn't you phone?' Xander held up his hands to ward off the accusation. 'Excuse me? Try and contact who? The vamps who take the phone off the hook when they're...busy.' Angel winced as Spike chuckled. 'Oh yeah, we were busy all right. Busy as two bunnies in a place with extra carrots.' 'Will you just stop with the sex metaphors, you're making me need therapy.' Spike snorted. 'Love, if just talking about sex puts you in the shrink chair, how are you going to get Mighty Mouth into Bed?' 'Mighty Mouse?' 'He means Cordelia,' murmured Angel as he moved over to the weapons cabinet. Xander flushed red and waved a finger at Spike. 'What is it with everyone and my sex life?' 'We're wondering when you're going to get one?' They turned to Angel, stunned at his outburst. After a second, he noticed and looked furtively at both of them. 'I said that aloud?' 'Too bloody right, pet. Nicely put.' Xander shook his head and walked to the door. 'I don't get it, even gay vamps get more than me. What am I doing wrong?' 'The hair,' suggested Angel as he pulled out a favoured bastard sword. 'I wasn't asking for advice from the dead.' Spike pulled on his boots and looked at Angel. That look of worry was back, and he guessed that part of this anxiousness to help Doyle came from the relief it brought - a chance to not think about more personal problems. He had to do something, had to stop this bloody circle before it got going in earnest. 'Right then,' said Spike, reaching for SID, 'since Xander hasn't come for a good bit of advice, shall we?' Angel nodded and followed him down to the car, Xander traipsing behind. 'They'll be at Dr Sussman's now, but I don't know...' '...I know where it is,' interrupted Angel. Xander climbed in the back, something troubling him. 'So everyone knows stuff except me?' 'Pretty much, yeah.' There was a pause as the engine revved up and then... 'So how do you get to be knowledge guy, then?' 'Live a lot longer,' said Angel quietly. 'Have more sex,' grinned Spike. Xander slumped back against the seat. 'Typical. In a world where Spike gets to be Brain, I'm eternally Pinky.' He thought for a moment. 'You two know anything about dimension hopping?'