SOUL SEARCHING

            Sunnydale High School.  If someone had told Angel even two days ago that he'd be back here, he wouldn't have believed it.  But here he was, moving silently down the halls, looking for the door to the basement.

            This building was bigger than the old one, the one he'd helped blow up.  He missed the narrow hallways--always empty when he'd been in them.  The place looked different enough that he couldn't quite get his bearings; he wondered where the old library had been.  At least the differences in the building kept him from dwelling too much on everything he'd once had here, everything he'd lost.

            He pushed thoughts of the past back where they belonged, turning his attention to the mystery of why he was here in the first place.  That, and how the hell a person was supposed to find the basement in this crazy maze of a school.

            It had started this afternoon, when Fred had handed him a letter.

            "I think this one's for you," she'd said, her forehead crinkled in a puzzled frown.  "Do you know somebody named William?"

            He drew a blank at first, then looked at the letter.  It wasn't so much a missive as an upchucking of somebody's subconscious onto paper.

            "Bloody, sodding Angel why didn't you tell me what it was like you bastard you had the chance you could have said the voices they hurt all there is to be is in the sodding basement and all the bloody children the fucking high school."

            And across the bottom in a barely readable scrawl, "Help me.  William.  Bad man."

            It had been easy enough to figure out who it was from, after that.  But why the hell was Spike sending Angel an incomprehensible letter?  It was a big enough question to get Angel on the freeway, heading for Sunnydale.

            Ah, there was the door to the basement.  Locked, but easy enough to force open.  So he did.

            He still wasn't sure why he'd decided to come.  He certainly didn't feel any kind of obligation to Spike, regardless of the vampire-style family connection.  But something about the letter had put him on edge.  Something serious was up with Spike, and Angel wanted to know what it was.

            Finding him wasn't as straightforward as it should have been.  The basement proved weirdly labyrinthine.  Finally Angel stopped, listening.  The place was full of small noises, but after a moment of careful attention he singled out a voice.  Spike's voice, muttering.

            That way.

            It took time and concentration, but finally he got close enough that he didn't have to work at it anymore.

            And then he heard another voice.

            He stopped, listening.  Hurting.

            Buffy.

            Maybe he really didn't care what was wrong with Spike.  Not enough to deal with this.

            Then Buffy's voice rose, sharp.  "No!"

            And he ran.

            Fast, but silent, until he was close enough to see them.  He didn't rush in, though; he stopped around a corner where he could watch and listen.  He knew better than to barge in on Buffy.  It was a good way to get his ass kicked.

            He would have done it, though, if he'd thought she was in danger, but she spoke more calmly now.

            "I'm sorry, Spike," she said.  "I can't help you if you won't let me."

            "I need to help you."  The desperation in Spike's voice surprised Angel.  "The danger…it's too much for you."

            "Then tell me what you know."  Buffy sounded frustrated, as if she and Spike had been over this before, and more than once.

            "I can't… The words… sodding words…"  He trailed off in something that sounded like a sob.

            Tentatively, and almost positive he shouldn't, Angel peered around the corner.

            Spike was hunched on the floor, his arms folded over his head.  Buffy knelt next to him, not touching him, just watching.  Something about the energy between them made Angel grit his teeth.  There was something very wrong there, something he couldn't quite put his finger on.

            And Buffy…  God.  He hadn't seen her in over a year.  Looking at her now made him feel like someone had shoved a stake into his heart.  Like his body was disassembling, turning to ash even as he stood there, hunched against the wall.

            He shouldn't have come.  Buffy seemed to have everything under control, and he doubted there was anything he could do to help Spike.  And since he shouldn't have come, he should leave now.  Take himself away from the pain.

            Instead he just stood there--big, stupid, undead oaf that he was--and stared at her.

            She looked different.  Better.  More at ease with herself.  The whole being dead and coming back thing had really messed her up, but maybe she'd finally worked through it.  He could identify with that.  Being dead and coming back wasn't exactly a fun time.  It had turned her into quite the raving bitch.

            But she looked soft now.  Touchable.  She'd changed her hair, her makeup.  Grown up a little more.

            He couldn't take it anymore.  He turned away, flattened his back against the wall and just listened.

            "I don't know what to think about this, Spike."  She sounded drained.  "You tell me you know stuff but all you can come up with is riddles.  It's not very helpful."

            "Can't hear…over the bloody voices.  They cry and they weep.  So many…all the people."

            "Yeah, okay.  I know I'm supposed to be a counselor or something but I don't know what the hell to do for you.  Look.  I'll come back in an hour or so.  Bring you something to eat."

            "Blood.  The blood… So much blood."

            "Okay, Spike.  Lots of blood.  Try not to go anywhere, okay?"

            "Nowhere to go."

            Angel heard her sigh, then the tapping of her footsteps as she walked away.  He smiled a little.  She still hadn't learned to wear sensible shoes.

            He waited a few minutes, to be sure she was gone, but before he had decided the coast was clear, Spike said, "You can come out now.  She's gone."

            He sounded remarkably coherent.  Angel wondered if the insane rambling thing was some kind of elaborate act.  After all, he would have had to have been somewhat sane to have sent Angel a letter.  Then he came around the corner and saw Spike's face.  His eyes.  Nobody could fake the torture in those eyes.

            Spike stared at Angel through those haunted eyes and Angel knew suddenly, instinctively, exactly what had happened.

            "My God, Spike.  What did you do?"  He came closer, crouched next to the other vampire.  "You look like shit."  It was testimony to the depths of Spike's disturbance that he'd let his roots grow out.

            "It was supposed to make things better.  Make me better."

            "Tough road you picked.  You piss off some gypsies?"  Angel didn't know whether to be amused, sympathetic, or just plain flabbergasted.

            "No.  There were trials, tests--and it hurt, God, it hurt…and then the voices.  You never told me about the voices."

            "Didn't have much chance, did I?"  He shook his head.  This was beyond belief.  Spike had gotten his soul back--on purpose?  At least he'd had some idea what was coming, unlike Angel, who'd been blindsided.  Still, Spike didn't seem to be handling it very well.

            "Why--?" Angel started, but Spike had lowered his head and was talking again.

            "Did it for her.  I was bad.  Bad.  She was right not to have me after what I did.  Wanted to be a man for her.  A good man.  Can't ever hurt her again, not now."

            Angel came slowly to his feet.  Spike was making far too much sense now.  Something cold and hard settled in Angel's gut as Spike went on, choking on his words now, but his meaning still all too clear.

            "She couldn't love me like I was.  I was just a body to her.  Just a place to go when she wanted it.  Life there, and so hot inside her, but you would know.  You would know."  His face sank to his hands.

            Shaking, Angel took a step back.  The growing rage seemed detached, not a part of him.  Just a huge, dark thing looming over him.

            "So soft…"  Spike's voice had fallen to a monotonous mumble.  "So soft and the way she tasted…and she would come and she would scream and do you know what she would bloody scream?  'Oh, God.  God, oh God, Angel.'  Angel.  Always Angel, fucking Angel."  He slumped to the side, weeping now.  "I hurt her because she hurt me but it was wrong.  I loved her, I wanted this for her but now she won't even let me touch her."  He stretched a beseeching hand toward Angel.  "Help me.  The voices.  What do I do with the voices?"

            Angel by now was shaking so hard he couldn't speak.  Every instinct in him wanted to lay hands on Spike and tear him to bloody pieces.  The rage was so intense he could feel his face start to change but he fought it off.  He forced himself to take another step back, forced himself to open his clenched fists.

            Spike stared up at him, his eyes brimful with pain.  There was little coherence left there now and Angel doubted he even knew what he'd been saying.  But he also knew it had all been true.  Whatever had happened between Spike and Buffy had been real, not a figment of Spike's fevered imagination.

            Angel closed his eyes.  What good would it do him to know?  Nothing would change.  Buffy would still be unattainable to him, a beautiful, bright possibility that he could never have.

            He gathered himself, forced the anger down, and said carefully, "One voice at a time, Spike.  There's no other way."

            And then he went back the way he had come, blindly groping his way back to the stairs, out of the building.

            If he never saw Sunnydale again, it would be too soon.

END.