29 Home Truths
They made a strange procession, Angel thought. Jesse trailed along at the rear, carrying the limp body of the woman. Spike and Xander were in the lead, Xander still with a firm grip on Ethan. Angel and Liam were in the middle, walking next to each other, although Liam had pulled away from Angel, so he no longer had his arm around the boy's shoulders. Angel understood that, he remembered that humans, especially young male humans had some strange responses to physicality, except when they were drunk. Now they were out of the underground, Liam seemed to be regaining his confidence, walking smartly, casting his eyes around the streets, watchful and alert. His change in demeanour reassured Angel that he would be alright.
They headed uphill towards the town centre and Crawford Street, beyond. Angel wondered if Dru was okay, Spike's brief explanation, that she had had a plan to distract Luke, had been reassuring. She couldn't be too sick if she believed she could run around town alone. He hurried his steps and drew level with Spike. "You never told me what was wrong with Dru," he said.
"You never asked."
"I'm asking now."
Spike squinted up at him, apparently assessing the sincerity of his interest. "She got caught by a mob in Prague," he said. "I don't know what it was, exactly, but she's not been right since. Sometimes she's fine. Others..." his voice trailed off and silence reigned for a few moments while Spike gazed blankly into the distance, then he took a deep breath. "Some sort of magic," he explained. "While I was tracking you down, she found the cure. But it needs the new moon, a church, some magical thingy that she says she's located and the power of the Hellmouth. And the new moon isn't for three more weeks. It needs her sire too." He looked sidelong at Angel, a challenge in his eyes. "So are you going to help?" he asked. "Since we've come to you? Dru's come to you? It was leaving town that was your problem, wasn't it?"
Angel glanced over his shoulder. Liam was walking close and obviously listening in. Angel gave him a small smile of reassurance before he turned back to Spike. "Yes," he sighed. "I'll help."
Spike nodded tightly and walked on, while Angel dropped back to Liam's side.
Liam glared at him. "Why would you help them?" he asked.
"They're family. Dru... it's complicated, but she's my responsibility."
"She's a vampire too?"
"But you kill vampires. Why would you help this one?"
"I said -"
"Yeah, she's your responsibility. I heard you." He shut up then and looked away from Angel, concentrating on the ground in front of his feet. Angel opened his mouth a couple of times, but on each occasion he hesitated, knowing that the bond of family was beyond his capability to explain. Hopefully, when Liam saw Dru he'd understand.
They were passing one of Sunnydale's newer Cemeteries before they saw another human being. A single man stood in front of the entrance gates staring up at the sign proclaiming the place to be Restfield Cemetery. After studying it for a moment he looked down and appeared to write something in a small notebook.
"Strange sort of tourism," Spike observed. "Could get a bloke killed, behaving like that."
Angel growled. "Behave, William," he warned. Spike just grinned at him.
The man glanced up, startled, as the sound of their approach reached him. Cautiously he took a step back, so he had the wall behind him. He shoved his notebook into one pocket and his pen into the other, leaving his hands there as his eyes swept across the group and widened in surprise. Angel's puzzlement over which of them he knew was answered immediately by Ethan, who attempted to pull himself free of Xander's grasp. "Hello, Ripper," he called.
'Ripper' looked unimpressed, but nodded. "Ethan," he replied, his voice guarded.
They had all, somehow, come to a halt, Jesse crowding in behind Angel. Liam took a step to the side to avoid the minion and in the process ended up on the far edge of the group, over by the wall, while Angel was stuck near the curb, next to Spike, with Xander and Ethan beyond him. He wanted to go over to the boy, but if this Ripper was another sorcerer, it could be dangerous to do anything to attract his attention.
Obviously realising that Xander wasn't going to let him go, Ethan gave up the struggle, but his move had made it clear to anyone that he was a prisoner. "What? No hug? Aren't you pleased to see your old partner, Rupert?"
Rupert, Ripper, neither name meant anything to Angel, but he knew he was completely out of date in his paranormal connections. He hadn't even known who Ethan's master, Aldric, was.
"Why am I not surprised to find you in town?" Ripper asked. "I should have realised that a hellmouth would be irresistible to the likes of you."
Ethan shrugged. "Well, you know me, never could keep my curiosity in check. But in this case it's not exactly my choice."
Spike snorted. "Was your choice to take the job."
"Yes, well, that's different," Ethan asserted. He looked back at Ripper. "Vampires," he said. "Not really the people I would choose as companions. Force majeure, dear boy. Don't suppose you'd help out an old mate?"
Pulling his hands out of his pockets, Ripper brandished a cross in each at arm's length. Angel felt the surge of aversion and noticed how both Xander and Jesse stumbled back a step, hissing and sliding into gameface. Spike held his ground. "Now that's just rude," he asserted. "We aint doing no harm. Just out for an evening stroll with my friend Ethan, here. No need to get nasty. We're not even hungry."
Ripper laughed and it was a harsh and unforgiving sound in the quiet of the night. "That I will believe," he said, still talking to Ethan.
"Rupert, please? I know you're playing at being the Watcher now, champion of innocents and all things pure and good, but can you really walk away and leave an old mate with creatures like this?"
"I'm not playing at anything. It's who I am. And you've made your bed, Ethan. You'll have to lie in it."
"Watcher?" Spike growled. "So where's your slayer?"
"Not here. Ethan, leave this place and never come back. Because if I see you again..."
His speech was interrupted as Liam broke away from the group and made a rush towards him. He swung one of the crosses around, obviously expecting it to bring Liam to a halt. It didn't. Liam ran right up to the cross and pressed his chest against it. "Please, I'm not a vampire," he gasped.
Ripper drew his cross back and pointed it back at Angel and Spike, both of whom had taken a step forwards, although Angel was willing to bet for different reasons. They did stop. Angel watched helplessly as Liam slid close to Ripper and the protection of the holy symbols he held. "They're vampires," Liam said, "all of them. That one," he pointed at Angel, "he was going to kill me."
"No! Liam!" Angel cried. "What are you saying? That's not true. I told you you'd be safe. I-I told you... I-I thought..."
"You bit me."
"No! I mean, yes, I did. But you agreed. I explained and you agreed. I needed to heal. We talked about it and you understood that I had to, to keep you safe." Liam edged behind Ripper, who swung his two crosses from side to side, as if fearing they would attack and snatch the boy back. Angel felt Spike's hand descend on his shoulder, but he was too preoccupied to even shrug it off. He kept talking past Ripper, to Liam. "All that time we were locked up together, we shared stuff, I trusted you. I thought you liked me." Even he could hear the whine in his voice and Spike's snort of derision made it clear he'd heard it too.
Liam, on the other hand, didn't seem to care. "I could never like you," he spat. "I could never care about you. You took my blood." He laughed incredulously. "What? You thought I trusted you? You thought we shared? You talked a lot, man. But all I did was listen and watch. And I learnt what you are. You're a monster!"
Angel felt a growl forming in his throat as his face shifted under the overwhelming humiliation of being addressed in such a way, in public, by a mere human and he did his best to choke it back. Years ago he'd taught himself to suppress his rage, to cultivate an indifferent attitude to the world around him, but he felt that control slipping now. Spike's hand tightened on his shoulder, offering both support and restraint.
Meanwhile Ripper began to edge backwards, along the sidewalk. "I don't know what the hell's going on here," he said, adding, over his shoulder, "And I don't know who you are. But I would advise you, for both our sakes, not to taunt a demon, under any circumstances. Stay behind me and stay close. They can still move faster than we can and these crosses will only hold them away." He cast a quick glance over his shoulder, assessing the direction of the sidewalk. "I think it is time we left. Slowly and carefully." He turned back to Ethan. "I mean it, Ethan" he warned. "If you know what's good for you, you'll get out of town, because if I see you anywhere near the hellmouth again..."
Ethan struggled to follow and Xander's grip tightened. "Rupert," he cried, despairingly.
Grinning widely, Spike stepped in front of Xander and Ethan, following Ripper and Liam, step for step. His hands were dug deeply into the pockets of his duster and there was a cocky swagger to his gait. "What if I said he really is an unwilling prisoner?" he asked.
Ripper smiled grimly in reply. "I'd say to you, what I'd say to him: there's not a ounce of good in Ethan Rayne and if he's got himself into trouble? Well, it's no more than he deserves. I'm sure he'll manage to work out a deal with you. That's what he's good at, making deals with demons."
Laughing, Spike turned his back on the watcher and looked at Ethan, who paled. "I'm thinking there's no love lost there, mate," he observed.
Ignoring Spike, Ethan continued to plead with Ripper. "Please, after all we've been through together. We used to be friends. When did all that stop?"
"When you started to worship chaos," Ripper snarled, causing Spike to laugh again.
Angel registered the exchange, but his attention was fixed on the boy behind Ripper. He stepped out onto the road and tried to approach the pair from the side. Ripper's right hand, with the tightly clutched cross, swung around to block him and Liam moved around Ripper's body to keep the cross between him and Angel.
"Liam?" Angel asked.
"Stay away from me, you freak," Liam shouted. Then he glanced at the watcher's face and muttered, "Sorry," before he clamped his mouth shut and kept it that way.
They made their way slowly down the street for about twenty yards in silence, Spike stalking forward for each step the watcher took back, Xander and Ethan behind him and Jesse cowering in the rear. Angel maintained his position slightly off to the side, waiting. The initial shock at Liam's betrayal was gradually fading, but the rage that replaced it seemed to grow with each step they all took. With it came the urge to grab the boy and force him to understand that he, Angel, was not the monster Liam had judged him to be. He had a soul, damn it! By definition that meant he was not the vampire he'd been, or the vampire Spike still was. He just needed to get to the boy. If he could explain... He took another step and found himself blocked by a parked car.
Ripper and Liam stopped on the far side of it, by the driver's door, and Ripper spoke over his shoulder, "Liam, is it?"
"Do you drive?"
"Good. There's another cross in my back pocket. Take it." Angel couldn't see what was happening, but suddenly Liam's hand came up, clutching a cross of his own. Giles shot him a quick glance. "Right jacket pocket," he instructed. "My keys. Take them and get in. Start the engine."
Ripper kept his eyes fixed on the vampires as Liam fumbled in his pocket. When he pulled back, keys jangling from his fingers, Ripper took a step towards the front of the car, while Liam managed the lock one handed, holding his cross up in the other. The door swung open and Liam scrambled in, pulling it closed behind him. A moment later the car coughed, then roared into life. Ripper slid around the wing and across the front to the passenger side, his eyes darting constantly back and forth between Spike and Angel, both crosses raised against them. Inside the car, Liam reached over and pushed open the door and Ripper paused there. "Bring me the woman," he called.
Spike stepped up close and cocked his head. "If you want," he agreed genially. He waved over his shoulder to Jesse, who came reluctantly forward.
Getting an unconscious woman into the car with them would require Ripper to drop one of his crosses. It would also require one of the vampires getting close enough to pass her over. Angel watched as Ripper figured the manoeuvre through and saw the moment he realised it was unworkable. Ripper's eyes narrowed and his mouth hardened into a bitter line as he clambered backwards into safety, slamming the door shut.
Spike was forced to jump out of the way as the car sprang forward. He spun on the spot and watched as it disappeared down the street. Then he started to laugh. "That was fucking priceless," he gasped eventually. "My god! You should have seen your face."
Angel tore his eyes away from the fast fading tail lights ready to roar his sorrow and impotent rage into Spike's impudent face, only to find Spike was looking at Ethan. "You really thought a starched up council watcher would risk his pretty suit over a degenerate chaos worshiper?" Spike asked.
"He wasn't always like that," Ethan said sadly.
"Well, he's like that now," Spike replied. "Tell you what, I haven't had so much fun for months. For that, you might just get to go free, once you've done your concealment spell for us." He turned to Angel and his face sobered. "Sorry mate," he said, coming over and laying a consoling hand on Angel's shoulder. "I know you wanted him. But come back with us now and if you like, once Dru's better we can go find him again for you. You know where he lives, right?
Angel nodded glumly. The rage had faded now and he found himself confused by his previous reaction. He looked into Spike's eyes and saw something there that he didn't really want to address immediately. "Sure," he said, his voice flat and colourless to his own ears. "I've nowhere else to go, have I?"
30 Hollow Men
Prompt: 91 - Rusting
Dru was as beautiful as he remembered. Even through his disillusionment and bitter disappointment, Angel noticed that fact. Thinner, maybe, and paler, if that were possible, but just as beautiful. She was sitting in an easy chair when he entered the living room of the small cottage in Spike's wake, and his eyes were immediately drawn to her.
Spike relaxed as soon as he saw she was safe. He'd been worrying at them to hurry up for the last half hour, ever since they'd lost Liam to the watcher. Now he walked over and bent his knee before her, taking her hand. For a moment she gazed down at him, then she looked up and saw Angel. The slow smile of welcome that spread across her face was like a soothing balm to his soul and although a voice deep inside him told him it shouldn't be, he felt some of his pain fade. "Angel," she sighed.
Feeling ridiculously awkward, he nodded formally. "Drusilla," he acknowledged.
With a shake of her head, Dru's voice turned fretful. "No, no that's not right," she wailed. "Your line is 'Baby, I'm back'."
Angel closed his eyes for a moment and dropped his head, absorbing the distress. When he looked up again he caught and held her gaze, willing her to understand him. "I'm sorry, Dru," he said. "But I'm not back, not the way you'd want me."
Standing up, Spike growled as he quickly moved between them, herding Angel towards the sofa and interrupting their mutual stare. "Enough of this," he said, "you're back with us for now." He stood close to Angel, until Angel gave in and took a seat. "Once we've done Dru's cure, you can go where you like and do what you like, but until then you'll stay with us." There was no suggestion in his tone that he would accept a compromise on that decision and Angel found he didn't have the energy to argue.
Meanwhile, Spike turned to Jesse. "You," he instructed, "take Dru's supper through to the kitchen and tie her up, then make yourself scarce. Go and make up the bed in the spare room. And bring a few blankets in here too, for my Grandsire." Angel looked up at that, but Spike was already turning to Xander, who had stayed close to the door. He went over and placing a hand behind Xander's neck, pulled him in for a kiss. "You'll have to give up your place to my sire, pet. Okay?" Xander nodded, although he didn't look too happy about it. "It's the way things work, love. My sire owns me, just as I own you. Doesn't mean I'm rejecting you. Just means there's a way these things are done, understand?" Again Xander nodded. Spike kissed him once more and gave him a small shove, taking custody of Ethan. "Go offer your obedience, then," he instructed.
Xander walked across the room to Dru's chair and went down on one knee. She reached out her hand and he took it, bowing his head and placing a reverent kiss on the backs of her fingers before he straightened up again. Seemed like Spike had trained some manners into him then, a fact Angel had been doubting up to now.
Drusilla smiled graciously down at him and patted the side of her leg. "Sit, my dear," she murmured. When he twisted around and sat at her feet, leaning against her chair, she laid her hand on the side of his head and pushed it down against her knee. He settled then, gradually relaxing as she began to run her fingers through his hair.
"Jesse," Spike yelled.
The minion stuck his head through the kitchen door. "I've tied her up, sir," he said, immediately. "I was just going to make up the bed, like you said."
"Bring some spare rope in here first and tie this one up too. I don't want to be holding on to him all night and I don't trust him to stay put, just because I say so." Jesse disappeared again and re-emerged a moment later with a few yards of thick cord. "Just his wrists, for now," Spike added. Once that was done, Spike gave the ropes an experimental tug, shoved Ethan down to sit next to Angel and jerked his head at Jesse, sending him off to the hallway. "Sheets and blankets in the cupboard in the spare room," he instructed.
Jesse left and Angel looked across at Xander, to see how he was reacting to Spike's treatment of Jesse. There was a story there, if he knew anything of young vampires. Jesse was not the type of minion he thought Spike would turn, too young looking to be of use in many situations. Of course, so was Xander, but Angel already knew the reason for that turning. Once again he felt the tendrils of despair creep up his spine as he thought about the human boy he'd tried to guard, but there was no denying that the demon who had taken his place looked superbly content, sitting against Dru's leg as she petted him. With his eyes closed he looked so much like Jeb that Angel's heart hurt.
Movement across the room caught his attention and he looked over to see Spike remove his coat and toss it over a hard backed chair against the wall. Spike stretched, as if to remove the kinks of tension and Angel was momentarily mesmerised by the thin, hard lines of his gandchilde, the muscles that played along his arms, the deadly power of him.
Arms braced behind his neck Spike turned and once again Angel saw his face soften as he regarded his sire and his childe. "Hungry, pet?" he asked.
Dru slowly shook her head but didn't say anything. Leaning back in her chair, she looked exhausted. Spike sighed and when he turned to speak to Angel the smooth predator of a moment before had totally disappeared and all Angel could see was a young man who looked suddenly vulnerable in his obvious desperation. "She's weak," Spike explained, although Angel hadn't needed to be told. "But she won't eat. She's been all over town for you tonight and you can see she's not fed. I can't make her eat."
Angel looked down at his bruised arms and held them out for Spike to see. "I'd help if I could, Spike," he swore. "But..."
Spike cocked his head thoughtfully and a slight smile formed on his lips. "I'll hold you to that, mate," he said. Going back to Dru's chair, he bent down to whisper something in her ear. She listened for a moment, then looked up, past Spike to Angel, and her eyes were suddenly wide and alight. Angel wasn't sure if it was a feverish symptom or not and he found himself wishing there really was something he could do to help Dru, but he also knew he couldn't drink from the woman in the kitchen and until he healed, there was no way his body would spare any blood for anyone else.
Angel tore his eyes away and watched Dru's fingers trace patterns in Xander's hair, combing and twisting the strands. He remembered the skill with which, in the distant past, those fingers could soothe his anger on the rare occasions one of his plans went wrong and they lost the object of their hunt. Almost against his will, his eyes followed the line of her arm to her shoulder and on to her face. She was watching him with a pensive expression which blossomed into a mischievous smile when she caught him looking. Her eyes flashed up to Spike, then immediately down to Xander and her smile turned seductive. Angel felt his earlier despair transform into a shiver of jealous need.
Spike's voice interrupted his thoughts before he could even think of trying to understand them. "Alright, food will have to wait. First things first," he announced. Turning to Ethan he continued, "You bargained a spell for us to get you out of the court. It's time f'you to pay up. Do it now, where Dru can watch and make sure you do it right. And believe me, she'll know if you try to pull a fast one."
"My very dear sir," Ethan replied, his voice somehow both mellow and smarmy at the same time. "Believe me, I would never dream of welshing on a deal with such a powerful demon as yourself."
Spike just snorted as he untied the cord from around Ethan's wrists. "Yeah, sure," he said. "I know you wouldn't. And so does Dru," he glanced back at her, "don't you pet?"
"I know this one's mind," she replied. "He's twisted and tied by more than your rope, my love. He wants things he can't have and it hurts him. He is one of the hollow men, the stuffed men. Headpiece filled with straw and veins of rusting blood." She looked directly at Angel. "Makes him do silly, dangerous things," she continued. "Playing with fire and chaos to prove a point to the ones who don't care enough to watch. I'll know if he tries to play you false."
Spike hauled Ethan to his feet, none too gently, and set him in the middle of the room. "Need any props?" he asked. "Candles or whatnot?"
Ethan shook his head. "No, it's just an incantation." He took a step back, away from Spike. "If you'll allow me?" he asked, casting a glance around the room. Spike backed away and settled on the arm of Dru's chair to watch and Angel found himself straightening in his own seat. He looked across at Dru, quickly, and saw that both she and Xander were watching attentively too.
Ethan folded himself down to the mat, sitting cross-legged in approximately the centre of the room.
"The whole house, mind," Spike reminded him.
Ethan nodded and shifted himself a few feet towards the door into the hall. Straightening his back he laid his hands palms up on his knees, closed his eyes and began to speak. His voice started off low but rose in volume to end in a shout, "Janus, evoco vestram animam. Illis lacuna, Tego! obscurate!"
As simply as that, it appeared, he was finished. Opening his eyes, Ethan relaxed from his rigidly held pose into an exhausted slouch.
"That it?" Spike asked, sceptically. Ethan nodded wearily. Apparently not satisfied, Spike turned with a raised eyebrow, to Dru.
She was still sitting back in her chair, but her hands were now gripped together in her lap. "Yes," she said simply. "It's done."
Nodding, Spike stood up, went over to Ethan and hauled him to his feet. He dragged him back to the sofa and dropped him into it. Before the man could move, assuming he was capable of it, exhausted as he looked, Spike snatched up the rope and tied his hands together again.
Ethan opened one eye. "Don't suppose I could trouble you for a drink?" he asked. "Rather took it out of me, that."
"Not yet," Spike replied. "Got other things to do first. Just sit tight. I'll be back." Unsurprisingly to Angel, that didn't appear to reassure Ethan much.
Spike, however, was already back at Dru's chair. Reaching a hand down to Xander, he said, "Come with me." Xander scrambled to his feet and they disappeared together into the kitchen.
Angel looked around the room. Dru was staring blankly into space, apparently lost in her tangled thoughts, or possibly enjoying the swirls of magic, which Angel was convinced she could actually see. Ethan was slumped where Spike had left him. Jesse had not returned, obviously judging that Spike's admonition that he make himself scarce was an order to be obeyed. Not so stupid after all. By the door to the kitchen was a bureau, with bottles and glasses on top.
Getting up, Angel went over to inspect the selection: Bushmills, he noted with approval, as well as Glenmorangie and seventeen year old Eagle Rare, as well as a bottle of Jack Daniel's. He smiled his appreciation, Spike had obviously learnt a few things about living well, since Angel had last seen him. Pouring out a glass of JD, he returned to Ethan and placed it in his hands. Ethan smiled his thanks and Angel smiled back, before returning to get something slightly better for himself.
He'd just lifted the glass to his lips when Spike and Xander came in from the kitchen. "Hang on, mate," Spike said. "Before you start on that you have to help Dru. Your blood'll give her a boost and she'll take it. Better than trying to force feed her something else." He looked Angel up and down. "But I know you have to heal first."
Shaking his head, Angel interrupted, "I'm not drinking that woman," he said, lifting his glass again.
Spike reached out and snatched it from him. "You don't have to. But young Xander here needs to be welcomed into the family. He's got Dru's approval. How about you give yours?"
Angel narrowed his eyes. "And then?" he asked.
"Then you can feed from him and you can feed from me. That'll heal you up and give you some extra to pass on to Dru. What d'you say?"
Ethan's spell - umm, yeah, well, I did a Willow and mixed and matched a few words from different Buffy 'verse spells found here http://www.darkshire.net/jhkim/rpg/buff
By those somewhat haphazard means, it should translate as - Janus, hear my plea. By these words, obscure! Conceal/shield!
Oh, and the title and Dru's misquote are from the poem, The Hollow Men, by T.S. Eliot.
Prompt: 92 - Centre
Opening his eyes, Angel rolled over on to his back. He felt heavy and relaxed and disinclined to move. Instead, he shoved his right arm behind his head on the pillow and studied the ceiling.
The cottage had obviously been built in the forties or fifties, but it's decor harked back to an earlier time. In the centre of the room, above the foot of the bed, the light fitting hung from a fancy, plasterwork ceiling rose and there was more moulded plaster around the cornice. Combined with the stark whiteness of the paintwork, it made the room look like an inverted wedding cake. On the opposite wall from the bed was a high marble fireplace which looked out of place, too large for the small room. The bed was also big and heavy. Like the moulded plaster and the mantelpiece, it was a relic of a previous age, leaving little space for anything else in the room. The alcoves on either side of the chimney breast were boxed in with panelled doors, marking them as built in wardrobes and to his right, the small windows were covered with heavy drapes which Angel knew hid deep windowsills, wide enough to sit on. Lying there, in the sweet lassitude of waking from a long and much needed sleep, Angel considered whether the original owner had designed the place to meet his particular needs, as well as his tastes.
Running his hand down his naked chest, Angel stretched luxuriantly, feeling the bones of his spine click back into place, one by one. He was free. Well, he paused and considered that idea, he was free from Luke's prison at least. Whether he was actually free beyond that was less clear. Remembering Spike's attitude the previous evening, he didn't think he'd be inclined to allow Angel to leave the house until after the ritual to restore Dru's health was completed.
The prospect of three weeks of further confinement was not an attractive one, but only in the sense that he was not accustomed to being restricted. As prisons went, this was far more luxurious than the stinking cells he'd endured for the past four days. And it came with additional perks.
Rolling his head to the left, Angel studied Drusilla's face. In sleep, she looked peaceful. He knew it was a false mask, but he accepted the illusion gratefully. There was solace in the belief that her restless spirit could occasionally find comfort. There was more to be found in the fact that it was he who could grant it to her. And that brought him back again to Spike.
For all that Spike had lectured Xander on the order of the sire and childe relationship, Angel was certain he'd glimpsed a flash of annoyance, even hurt, on Spike's face when Dru had closed the bedroom door on him. Closed it metaphorically, since she'd actually told him not to follow, before she and Angel left the living room. Where Spike had gone, Angel didn't know but he could make a very good guess. His lips quirked as he contemplated the odds of Spike remaining where he was and sharing sleeping quarters with Ethan. They would be somewhat less than zero, he thought.
Caressing the smooth skin of his belly, he scratched at his groin, fingertips catching in the tangled hairs and pulling them free of each other, shedding flakes of Dru's dried juices in the process. He'd comforted her, alright. More than once. He felt his lips twist into a smirk as he thought about the thickness of the walls and considered the chances that her cries and moans had penetrated through to the spare bedroom. Maybe not, since the house was so solidly built. He'd not heard anything from next door, himself, although that could just mean that Xander wasn't a screamer. Spike, as he remembered, was almost always silent in his love making.
Lying in Dru's bed, remembering his actions of the day, part of him felt guilty for usurping Spike's place. But another, larger and more insistent part, recognised its inevitability, its rightness. Dru was his childe. It was his duty to care for her and in her illness, it was his duty to do what he could to alleviate her suffering.
When Spike made his proposal, Angel's first instinct had been to refuse. "You want me to welcome Xander into the family?" he'd asked, confused and somewhat revolted by the idea; or maybe simply revolted by the instantaneous surge of emotion he'd felt at Spike's words. He shook his head. "I can't do that."
"Sure you can, mate," Spike replied airily. "You don't have to take him to bed. Just acknowledge him as my childe. Feeding's more important than fucking, and you know it."
What Angel did know was that he needed to feed if he was to finish healing. He spent a moment considering the chances of persuading Spike to get him blood from the hospital. He might actually succeed, since Spike wanted him healthy and co-operative for the ritual. At least, so he hoped. But there was no chance of getting hospital blood without notice, at least not by any means that Angel could sanction.
The woman was obviously already dead. Angel could see the faint flush of recent feeding in both Spike's and Xander's faces. They would have to be glutted, since they'd each killed before leaving the court's cells, and he knew they'd feed Dru themselves, if he refused. He reached out and picked up his whisky from where Spike had put it down. Spike opened his mouth, as if to protest, but Angel merely rolled the glass between his hands as he considered his options, and he closed it again. It was true, Angel thought, that he'd agreed to help Dru, but at the time he'd been referring to the ritual. He stared down into the glass, watching the whisky slosh from side to side and he remembered that he'd also said that he'd help Dru tonight, if he could. Spike didn't look like a man who'd be willing to go out again to negotiate the purchase of blood from the blood bank, assuming Nigel Mears was even on duty. Putting the glass back down, he held up his arms and studied the dark bruising. Long experience of his body and its moods told him that although the breaks had joined, the fractures were still brittle. One way or another, he needed more blood and animal blood would not serve. Glancing around the room, if only to avoid catching Spike's eye, he caught Dru's instead. She smiled at him sympathetically, as if she understood his pain and it was quite possible she did. It was part of her curse that she felt her family more intensely than other vampires. In the midst of his mourning over Liam's treachery and his guilt at his failure to protect Xander, the prospect of betraying Dru in her turn, suddenly seemed impossible. Slowly Angel nodded. "Okay," he agreed. "Where?"
Point made and concession won, Spike grinned. "Right here," he suggested, waving his hand towards the sofa.
Angel looked at Ethan, who immediately shuffled along the seat and scrunched himself into the corner, leaving the remaining acres of cushion free. Tightening his lips thoughtfully, Angel considered suggesting one of the bedrooms, but before he could voice the idea, Spike strode across the room, grabbed Ethan and bundled him out into the kitchen. With a shrug, Angel strolled over to the sofa and sat down.
As they waited for Spike to return, Angel watched Xander, who still stood, dithering by the bureau. He looked so uncertain of himself and so resembled Jeb, that it touched a nerve in Angel. "Don't worry," he said. "It certainly won't hurt."
Xander nodded convulsively and took a deep breath as if to steady himself, but before he could reply Dru spoke. "Kitten," she said, gesturing Xander to her. "Come here. I have a secret to share with you."
Immediately, Xander went over and knelt at the side of her chair. Angel couldn't hear what she said, but he saw Xander's head jerk once, as if with surprise. He watched them, their two dark heads bowed together as she whispered in his ear; they looked like a pre-Raphaelite painting - the knight at his lady's feet. Then she made a shooing movement with the backs of her hands and he stood up again, going back to his place by the door. Dru looked over at Angel, her expression saucy, and she winked.
A moment later Spike returned and shepherded Xander to the sofa, guiding him to sit next to Angel. He gave Xander's hair a soft stroke that extended down to the back of his neck and looked at Angel across the top of Xander's head.
"Welcome to the family, Xander," Angel murmured, as he reached his hand up, slipped it beneath Spike's and pulled the boy towards him.
As his fangs pierced Xander's neck the boy's body stiffened. Then the blood began to fill his mouth, with minimal effort on Angel's part. Oh, Xander was full and overfull and the blood flowed over his tongue and into his throat, rich, still slightly warm, still carrying the elusive flavour of life, but with that additional tang, and it sent Angel's senses flying. The energy, the taste of magic and darkness and the sheer familiarity of it flooded him, rolling over and through him like an ocean wave. Vaguely, Angel was aware of Spike's voice whispering softly, shushing and encouraging, but his focus was on Xander and Xander's gift. Without him being aware of it, his arms closed around the boy, pulling him tight to his chest, one hand rubbing circles between Xander's shoulder blades. He drank and felt the power flow through him, closing cuts, dispersing bruises and binding fast the weak bones of his arms. The supply seemed never ending. Until it was. Far beyond any ability to formulate conscious thought, Angel's body did his job for him and when the resistance would normally require his throat muscles to add extra suction to the task, instinct took over and he stopped. Slowly he drew his fangs free. Pulling his head back, he focussed on Xander's face. The boy's eyes were closed and he wore an expression of blissful abandon. Yet again the image of Jeb rose up in Angel's mind. Cupping Xander's cheeks, he bent his head and placed a kiss on Xander's forehead and another, softly, on the lips. "Thank you, my childe," he said. "That's enough now."
Flopping back, Angel allowed his head to fall against the cushions and watched through half closed lids as Spike pulled Xander to his feet and settled him again on the floor at Dru's feet. With a smile that almost looked like happiness, Dru began to stroke his head, as she had done before.
While Spike returned and settled in Xander's place, Angel raised his arms to inspect the skin. The ugly bruising was almost completely gone. What remained would disappear over the next few hours. He sighed and relaxed into the chair.
Spike's hand on his chin, turning his face towards him, pulled Angel back to full consciousness. "You remember why we're doing this, mate?" Spike asked, although he didn't sound angry or impatient.
"Yeah, sure, I remember," Angel replied, pushing himself up to sit upright again and turn slightly to face Spike. Spike leaned forward and tilted his head, and something in Angel roared with satisfaction, before his fangs had even touched skin.
If drinking from Liam was seductive and drinking from Xander was exhilarating, holding his grandchilde and feeding from him was as far beyond both of those as the sun was beyond the moon. Again Angel's throat muscles hardly needed to ripple as the blood flowed out of Spike's neck and into Angel's mouth as if pushed like the tide. And where Xander's gift had sent him flying, Spike's offering brought him back, back to the room, back to Dru sitting in her chair nearby, back to Xander at her feet, back to memories of Darla and Penn, back even to the taste of Lawson. He felt as if he were just one speck in the continuum of the family and they were all connected through the blood that flowed across his tongue. For the first time in months, maybe years, he felt himself fully harden. His hands clenched around Spike's upper arms as he pulled him closer and Spike's own hands slid around Angel's ribs, up his back to grip his naked shoulders, before stroking down again and stopping, gripping hard at Angel's sides, just above his waist.
Once again, it was Angel's body that recognised when the feeding was complete.
When Spike drew back Angel hauled himself upright and walked across to Dru, who lifted her hand to him. Pulling her gently to her feet, he placed an arm around her shoulders and together they turned to look at Spike, lying bonelessly in the corner of the sofa, where Angel had left him. "Don't follow, pet," Dru said. "My Angel and I are taking this next door."
That was when he saw the flash of an expression cross Spike's face. Spike had expected her to stay, as they had done, in the open forum of the family room. Still caught in the last tendrils of memory, Angel recognised that look, he recognised the hurt, almost betrayal, before Spike schooled his face to neutrality. "Of course, sire," he agreed.
Suddenly the memory of Liam crashed over Angel like a tidal wave and he shivered. Drusilla looked up at him. "Oh poor baby," she crooned. "You thought he was family, but he left you stranded, high and dry. You see how confused you are." She laughed gently before continuing in a chiding tone, "You think it's so important, that soul? You think it makes you almost human? Oh, my poor, poor dear. You really don't know." Then she took his hand and led him, all unresisting, into the master bedroom and closed the door behind them.
They'd lain on the bed together and it had been good. It had been amazing. He'd forgotten the powerful sensation of feeding from family. Even more so had he forgotten the impact of the reciprocal. Having Dru once more in his arms, suckling from him, as she had done as a childe, before the madness that took him away from her, from all of them, was like sliding back in time. And if the memories were tinged with regret for how he'd done it, he found that any desire to regret the creation of her, as an act in and of itself, was a feat beyond his powers to fulfil. And when her delicate, teasing hands slipped inside his clothes and began to undo buttons and slide down zippers, he didn't fight. Rather, he joined in, releasing her laces and hitching her skirt, until with a moan of completion, he slipped inside her as she continued to nurse gently at his neck.
And now it was morning and he had to face the consequences of his action. His grandchilde would not reproach him, after all, it had been Spike's idea. But Angel found his own mind was doing a good job, all on it's own. There was no way Spike would want him to apologise. He wouldn't even understand why Angel should. But Angel remembered that look, that moment of betrayal and it chilled him, just as Liam's betrayal had. Although why he should feel betrayed, he wasn't sure. Liam was human. They did that, as he should know. They did it between themselves and they did it to others. He had the personal evidence of a submarine crew sacrificed to twisted greed in the forties, a hotel in LA in the fifties, where one scapegoated life had been tossed to the mob with never a thought, and Detroit in the sixties, where it was only by running that he'd avoided a betrayal that would have jeopardised his soul. Even yesterday he'd received the further evidence of unforgiving and sanctimonious humanity, provided by the watcher in his reaction to a man who had obviously once been a close friend.
On that thought Angel rolled silently out of bed, grabbed the pile of his clothes from the floor and tiptoed out of the bedroom. In the hall he tugged his trousers on, but finding that he only had one of his socks, left his feet bare. Regardless of Spike's plans, he'd need someone to go back to his apartment to pick up some clothes for him. Three weeks living shirtless was beyond what he was willing to endure.
Padding down the hall, he entered the kitchen and looked around with interest. Jesse was curled up under the kitchen table, a blanket covered lump on the bare floor, and the body of the woman was gone. He nodded to himself with approval; Spike had obviously learnt to keep a clean lair at some point in the last hundred years. Crossing the room to the other door, leading to the living room, he slipped through. Sure enough Spike was not there. Ethan, however, was.
Ethan was also drinking. His wrists and ankles were both bound, but apparently he'd managed to stand up at some point and hop across the room to the liquor supply. He was now sitting, almost prone on the sofa, feet propped up on the coffee table, drinking from the open neck of a bottle which was held tightly in both hands. The Bushmills, Angel noted with a sigh of regret.
What are you doing?" he asked. "It's barely evening!"
"So it might be, my friend," Ethan slurred. "But I've been alone out here for the whole day." He nodded towards the coal scuttle on the grate. "Couldn't even get to the loo. But waste not, want not, I managed to reach the important things." He looked up at Angel, squinting as if to fix him in one place. Angel knew the feeling. "Anyway," he added, with a hiccup, "Something bad is happening. Bad for both of us. Bad for all of us." Taking in Angel's sceptical look, he giggled. "Just kidding!" Then he suddenly turned serious. "But something bad is going to happen to me." He paused and studied Angel critically. "So you," he said, once more cheerful and pointing his two index fingers vaguely in Angel's direction, "should relax. Enjoy the night." Lifting the bottle in a toast he added, "Here's to me."
Looking down at the man, Angel addressed the one part of that speech that appeared to make sense. "Why do you think something bad is going to happen to you?"
"Can feel it in my bones, dear boy. Can feel it in my bones. Plus, you must remember, I saw your grandchilde kill my master. Can't have that now. Mustn't be any witnesses to a death like that."
Angel began to wander around the room, studying the pictures on the wall, the huge television that dominated one corner, the few books on the shelf behind it. "Spike said he'd let you go, in exchange for the spell," he observed over his shoulder.
"Yes, he did, didn't he? That was nice of him."
Turning Angel studied him again, wondering if he was really as drunk as he appeared. "But you don't believe him." It was a statement, not a question and Ethan didn't bother to reply. He just took another swig from his bottle. Going back to the bureau by the kitchen door, Angel picked up the Glenmorangie and sat down next to him.
32 Peace Offering
By the time Spike got up and wandered into the living room, Angel had put the bottle of Glenmorangie back where it belonged and was nursing a glass in one hand as he pretended to read the only interesting looking book he'd found on the small shelf behind the television. He'd armed himself with the book and the glass, as things to hide behind, knowing that sitting with no occupation would make him uncomfortable during the confrontation to come.
Spike appeared to be still half asleep, scrubbing his hands through his hair before he started buttoning up the red silk shirt he had obviously just pulled on. He glanced across at Angel, nodded, and tilted his head to read the book's title. "The Chimera," he said "Hmm." Angel turned it around to check the cover. "'S okay," Spike observed. "Got some nice torture scenes, but it's not that great. 'Course if you read it in the Italian..." He paused as if in thought. "Nah, still not much cop. Oh, and I forgot. Languages... not your thing, are they?"
Doing his best to suppress his irritation at Spike's taunt, Angel still found himself rising to the bait. "I read French!"
Spike grinned. "Yeah, just about," he agreed. He paused by the easy chair. "Where's Dru?" he asked.
"Oh. Right. Okay then." Spike acknowledged. He looked around again. "And where's Merlin?"
"Gone." Off Spike's suspicious look, Angel confirmed, "I let him go."
As he'd expected, that news was not taken so calmly. "Bloody hell!" Spike exploded. "Why the fuck d'you do that? I had plans for him."
There was often satisfaction to be found, Angel reminded himself, in frustrating his grandchilde. It was a small satisfaction, but in his present position he would treasure each and every one. Mirroring Spike's earlier tone, he observed innocently, "You don't like magic."
With a growl, Spike snatched up the Jack Daniel's from the bureau, twisted off the cap and tossed it over his shoulder. "You're about a hundred years too late to tell me what I do or don't like," he snarled, lifting the bottle and taking a swig.
Suppressing a smirk, Angel maintained his casual front. "You said you'd let him go."
"Didn't mean it, did I? Do you have any idea what a chaos sorcerer tastes like? It's nearly as good as slayer blood! That one under the school..." He trailed off as another thought apparently struck him. "Oh, shit! This means I've gotta go out later, too. Was planning on him being enough for all of us, for t'night."
Shaking his head sorrowfully, Angel finally allowed his amusement to show. "Planning?" he asked, incredulously. "You don't plan, Spike. You react. You always have." He threw his book aside. "I on the other hand," he continued, "now have a chaos mage who owes me a debt of gratitude. Ethan could be a very useful resource and as such, was not to be wasted just to save you some effort. I made sure he'll pay, when the time comes. The watcher was right, he knows how to make a deal." He felt his smirk broaden. "But then, so do I," he added.
Slumping down in Dru's chair, Spike took another gulp of Jack. He spent a moment savouring the flavour before his Adam's apple bobbed as he swallowed. "This is my bloody house, Angelus. I'd remind you t'keep that in mind. You just fucked up my quiet evening at home, y'bastard! I've a good mind to let you starve, since you robbed us of a ready meal. Don't need you healthy to do the ritual, you know?"
"You might not need me healthy, but it'd make your life easier if I was," Angel shot back. "And you do need me to make sure Dru eats between now and then."
Spike sat up straight in his chair with a snarl. "And that's another thing. No more going off to bed to feed Dru. From now on, you do it right here, where I can make sure you're doing it right."
Narrowing his eyes, Angel considered his grandchilde's angry face. It was time to put forward his proposal, but he needed to do it carefully. "I'll make a deal with you," he suggested. "I'll stay in here while I feed Dru, but in return there will be no repeat of last night. From now on, you get me blood from Mears, at the hospital. You do that and I'll keep Dru in line." Spike had calmed slightly as Angel made his suggestion, although the taunt at the end, as Angel had intended, caused his hackles to rise again. Winding Spike up was so easy that Angel didn't even try to resist the impulse to continue needling. "Poor Spike," he said with totally false sympathy, twisting the knife in his victim's wound. "Always second best. Never could hold his sire's attention for long." He shook his head mournfully and voiced his judgement. "Totally whipped!"
But it appeared he had over played his hand, because instead of getting more frustrated, Spike seemed to relax. "Like you were any different," he observed with a smirk of his own. "Always crawling after Darla's apron strings." He raised his bottle in a mock toast. "I've learnt a few things in the last hundred years" he explained. "And one of the things I've learnt is to see the world as it is. Darla had you as whipped as Dru has ever had me."
Suddenly the pleasure went out of the game and Angel sighed. "Yeah, I think she did," he agreed. "Until she threw me out of the house in China, cursing both my face and my name."
That elicited a surprised jerk of the head from Spike. "She threw you out?" he asked. "You mean, you didn't just leave?"
"Is that what she told you?"
"Yeah, as she threw us out after you. Said any childe of yours would be as faithless and that she never wanted to see us again."
Angel smiled. "And look at you now," he said, "all grown up and independent. You could say I did you a favour, back then. You'd never have got out from under Darla, if she hadn't wanted you to." He grinned. "She's have dragged you back to the old man's court and you'd have been stuck there, with Dru playing seer to his every whim." He felt a laugh beginning to form as he continued his thought. "And if she'd been there, he might not have got himself stuck like a cork in a bottle, when the hellmouth closed on him."
As the first snigger finally escaped Angel, Spike began to chuckle. In a moment they were both laughing at the image of Heinrich Nest, face even more distorted for being squashed up against glass.
Spike shook his head. "Right," he agreed. "Not sorry I missed that little adventure." He raised the Jack Daniel's and Angel returned the toast with his own glass. "Cheers, mate."
"Cheers." Taking a sip, Angel picked up his book again. "So," he suggested. "Hospital? Blood that won't attract Luke's attention?"
Spike's eyes narrowed speculatively. "Not afraid I'll drug it again?"
"No, you've got what you want. I'm here and I'll help with Dru, so there's nothing for you to gain from doing that."
Spike's mouth twisted into a grin of acknowledgement. He nodded towards the television. "Might find that more interesting than Italian village politics and corruption," he observed. "The characters are no more real, but at least you don't have to work so hard for it. You're sure to find something you like, everything from porn to opera, at your finger tips." Angel looked at him doubtfully and Spike laughed again. "Fuck you," he observed as he got up and walked across the room to the hall door. "Do what y'like. I'm going to get Xander up and we'll go out and get you your blasted blood." He paused with one hand on the doorknob and turned back to Angel, the smile fading from his eyes. "And you keep your paws off Xander too. Got it?"
Nodding wearily, Angel agreed, "Yeah, I've got it. Don't worry, I won't try and touch him."
'Xander,' Angel thought as he watched Spike leave. 'It's Xander, not Jeb. And even if it was Jeb...' Since the night Spike drugged him and dressed Xander up, Angel had been tormented by 'what if's' around that close call. Jeb hung so heavily on his conscience, not only because of the life lost, but also for the acts of degradation he had indulged in with the boy. He remembered that lesson, learnt early by Liam and learnt well: men rutting together was a sin beyond forgiveness. He didn't usually allow Liam's memories the freedom of his conscious mind, but the image of two boys, beaten to death by their fathers with every member of the village knowing full well the why's and the wherefore's, no one raising a voice in protest when a tinker was blamed and taken to trial, that memory had surfaced regularly in the decades since Rumania.
As Darla had once said, Liam's life had shaped him as much as the two hundred and more years since it had ended. Liam had been fifteen or sixteen at the time and he'd taken great pains over the next ten years to ensure that his own father heard of his adventures with the slatterns in the tavern. Spike had no soul; he didn't know that what he did was wrong. The fact that Angel had not had a soul when he'd bedded Jeb might act as some excuse, but he had one now. Xander was safe from him. As was Spike.
And Dru... Dru was his childe, he'd made her, but he'd only had her for twenty years. Spike had cared for her for much longer.
Thinking about his childe and his grandchilde, Angel knew that regardless of Spike's own acceptance of a hundred years of devotion being tossed aside, Angel himself could not judge it the same. It was true that he'd never released Dru, but even so, his sense of justice told him that he'd done Spike a wrong by bedding her. Plus, he'd never liked to share. Before, he'd kept Dru from William whenever Darla wasn't demanding his attention. It had been amusing, watching William's face as Dru pulled away from him and clung to Angelus. But now Angel understood the devotion Spike had given Dru and he acknowledged that it had earned Spike his place at her side and in her bed. He would, he resolved, withdraw from the field. Let Spike have the reward he had earned.
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