Nope, not mine. Joss's, ME's etc.


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Spike is tired of Angel treating him as if he's irrelevant. Today is the day it changes.


My thanks to Stars for beta-ing this and also for her wonderful encouragement. The website is new and you will find a couple of fictions that I haven't previously published, so please take a look.

The Relevance of Spike

The alarm went off.

Opening one eye, he reached out and gave it a solid thwack, groaned at the bloody ridiculous time, was about to say bollocks to it and turn back into the snuggling warmth of his bed when he remembered what day it was. His eyes shot open and he rolled from his bed in a snarled heap of limbs and bedding. Cursing as he disentangled sheets from his body, he ran a hand through tousled hair and hauled himself into the shower. The hot, stinging spray sluiced over his body and he couldn't contain a sigh of satisfaction as the heat penetrated and warmed even his cold flesh. He turned his face to it and the last remnants of sleep were washed from his eyes.

It was a big day. A hundred and twenty-five years. A quarter of the way through his second century and he'd decided today was the day it was all going to change. Today was the day he would finally break it. Break their ongoing, bloody and destructive cycle of one and a quarter centuries. He dressed with care. His boots were polished and every hair forcibly gelled into place.

He arrived early. He meant business. He had a briefcase.

Not only that, the briefcase actually contained real work with some real plans, outlining ideas on how to take forward their fight against evil. After all, he was a master vampire and you didn't get to that position or reach his age without the ability to conceive a cunning plan or two.

Spike watched the dark figure shouldering his way out of the elevator and waited for him, a tentative smile of welcome on his face.

Angel frowned. There was always so much to do and, once more, he'd ended up working through the night just to keep on top of it. The first thing that met his eyes as the elevator doors swished open was the beacon-blonde head. Oh frigging fantastic! Spike grinning at him inanely, carrying a stupid briefcase as though that was all it took to make a contribution. He rolled his eyes.

"Angel." Spike greeted him.

"Great. Just what I needed. Boy Idiot playing at businessman."

Spike's smile was left hanging precariously on his face. The brush of Angel's shoulders caused it to teeter, slide and fall. Fred found him still standing there.

"Hey, Spike. Better hurry. Meeting's about to start."

Spike took a breath and remembered what day it was. Today was the day. If not now, then when? He let go of the tension and the calmness from the morning flooded back. With a determined lift of his head he followed Fred in.

Twenty minutes of good intentions and then a spark of anger, an answering flare and the morning meeting ended abruptly with Spike kicking back his chair and storming out in a swirl of leather and fury. Wesley and Fred exchanged a look of wordless understanding and she left to catch up with the blonde whirlwind. Lorne and Gunn melted away, leaving Wesley to face the dark storm hanging over the conference room.

Angel gritted his teeth as he watched the petulant display so typical of Spike.

"A little harsh, perhaps?" Wesley commented, raising his eyebrows.

"Harsh! Explain to me, Wes, what exactly does he do here?"

'…besides stomp, snark and irritate the hell out of everyone?' Angel just managed to prevent the words from slipping out and losing any sort of moral high ground he may have gained. Instead he contented himself with glowering at the receding figure.

"I have to say, you have made it rather self-evident that you don't want him involved with our work here and when he does persist, it seems a gross injustice to tell him his views are immaterial and that he himself is irrelevant..."

"And this temperamental outburst of his just proves my point." Angel continued, without hearing a word Wesley said. "He's not part of the team. He's selfish and self-centred."

Sometimes Angel could be so incredibly dense, it made Wesley want to shake him.

"He's a recently souled, back from the dead vampire. Tell me, what were you doing one hundred years ago?" He pointed out gently.

Those words did penetrate through Angel's tirade. He frowned in annoyance at the implied criticism. Wesley was his friend, his employee, and he took this partisan display badly.

"Sheesh, what the hell is it with him? Everyone always takes his side!"

"I'm not…"

Wesley shook his head and gave up. Spike brought out the childish side of Angel's nature and nothing he said would change it, sparks always flew when the two vampires were together and Wesley idly wondered how they'd managed to exist for twenty years, side-by-side without killing each other. He followed the others, leaving a surly vampire sitting at his desk, glaring at his monitor and muttering darkly.

"Always: 'Poor Spike. Look how well he copes with his new soul. Why aren't you more like him, Angel?' Two weeks in a frigging basement. Try a hundred years living in alleys and gnawing on rats…."

Fred hastily followed Spike as he flapped angrily down the corridor like a giant raven of doom.

He dug into his pockets, retrieved his lighter and cigarettes, flipped a fag in his mouth and lit-up. A long inhalation and the nicotine worked its magic, the tension flowing out with the smoke he exhaled. He'd tried, but it just wasn't going to work. Only a cataclysmic tilt of the continental plates was gonna shift Angel's view. He gave up. Maybe try again when he reached one and a half centuries.

He noticed someone looking at him in disapproval.


Deliberate belligerence coloured his voice, which for some reason seemed to raise the man's hackles. A vein throbbed in his forehead, reminding Spike of the git.

"You do realise that this is a public area and therefore non-smoking? Would you please extinguish your cigarette?"

"Nope. Sue me." Spike replied pleasantly.

"I will." The man replied, equally as pleasantly, handing over his card. He spoilt the impression of professional superiority by adding smugly, "Bite me."

Spike gave a vicious smile.

"Yeah? Cheers for the invite."

His eyes glinted gold, fangs lengthened and the bones in his face were already beginning to shift and change when Fred came hurrying up to intervene.

"Spike? You know we're in a law firm, surrounded by lawyers? I think 'sue me' aren't the sort of words that should be bandied around." She turned to the man. "And please don't ask Spike to bite you…"

Spike reluctantly relaxed his features.

"Sodding lawyers. Give me good, honest, evil demons any day of the week."

"Sorry." She said glancing towards the seething lawyer. "Just having a bad day. Angel on the warpath, you know how he is."


"I bet you didn't introduce yourself, did you?" She reprimanded Spike. "This is William the Bloody. He's kinda Angel's closest living relation." She gave a nervous smile. "Well not exactly living... And sorry, you are?"

The lawyer's expression underwent a dramatic change. He looked around anxiously and ran a finger around his collar as though it had somehow shrunk and become a noose about his neck. He glanced at Spike, licked his suddenly dry lips and peered down the corridor as though he expected to see Angel striding towards him, lethal sword in hand. He was a bright man and quickly came to a decision.

"Well, it was nice meeting you, William. Spike. I mean, Mr Bloody."

He snatched his card back out of Spike's hand and rushed off.

Spike eyed Fred with amusement.

"You just bullied that poor, little lawyer. I like your style, Pet." He approved.

Fred just looked at him. The sympathy she exuded was enough to send him frantically scrabbling in the dirt, digging defensive ditches and erecting palisades until he was impregnable once more.

"Ya know how grouchy he is in the mornings. Don't take it to heart."

She thought she'd caught a flash of hurt in his eyes and then realised it must have been a trick of the light. He turned towards her and all emotion had gone, his features were relaxed and his voice was indifferent.

"Don't worry yourself, Pet, got used to his little tantrums a long time ago."

"You just seem to bring out the worst in him."

"Yeah, but someone has to make the broody git lighten up."

"You do it deliberately?" Not that Fred admitted to being wholly surprised.

He gave a small shrug.

"Used to, a long time ago."

William's reasoning had been, if you can't have approval, you may as will have attention.

"Now it's conditioned – see me, pout, behave like a two year old. Pavlov's bloody dog has nothing on him. Still, no one should be expected to be mature and reasonable 24/7. S'not healthy"

"Huh." She nodded her understanding. "It's like he needs an outlet and you're the lightening rod?"

He didn't like that analogy and hastily corrected her erroneous impression.

"I see when he's getting wound tight, so I wind it just that little bit tighter." Spike cocked his head, his eyes wide, his face a picture of martyred innocence as he spread his hands. "Hey, it's a rotten job, but someone's got to do it."

Fred was genuinely curious.

"Still, it must get to you, don't you mind, the things he says to you?"

"Nah. I say worse back. It's nothing."

"So why'd ya walk out of the meeting?"

Spike gave another shrug.

"Sometimes you just gotta live down to expectations."

"You're a very strange person." Fred frowned. "You must care for him a lot,"

"What? That… tosser! You must be joking!"

Spike nearly choked in the rush to voice his denial. Fred wrung her hands, becoming defensive and apologetic.

"Sorry. I know I'm not very perceptive, ya know… so many years by myself. I'm not very good at 'getting' folk, an all. So I kinda look at actions rather than listen to words. You talk like you hate him, but you act in his interests even when he doesn't realise or appreciate it." She made a little self-deprecating gesture. "It just makes me think you must care."

"Bollocks. We keep each other sane by driving each other mental."

But Fred was the one person who could always breach his defences and sapper his attitude and posturing. She understood that his actions spoke way louder than the cacophony of words he produced.

"People underestimate you." She placed an affectionate hand on his arm. "I wish I'd known you as a human."

And wasn't that the last thing he needed reminding of. Feeble, pathetic William. Desperately seeking approval and yet forever the outsider, the butt of jokes and unkind jibes that had the power to reduce him to a self-conscious mass of quivering misery. What a wanker. Thank god he was no longer like that.

"He was a complete pillock."

"I imagine you were a kind, caring man."

"Like I said, complete pillock."

She took the hint and dropped the subject and they walked together towards the lab. Spike often spent time in there, watching and listening, although she wasn't entirely certain that he understood everything she said. She did tend to get a bit tecky. But he would let her rattle on regardless and somehow, through the act of talking about a particular case, it would often help clarify it in her mind. He'd almost become her professional comfort blanket. She smiled at the thought.

He was restlessly prowling, picking up items, examining what was new. He stuck his finger into a glutinous mass and watched with distaste as it dripped from the end of his finger.

"Is this what you're working on at the moment?"

"Uh huh. Our sources say they've been turning up around the downtown industrial area."

They eyed the smelly, grey, gelatinous substance with a distinct lack of enthusiasm. Spike's brows drew together, he brought the coated finger to his nostrils, taking in the distinct odour of the substance.

"What is it?" Fred asked.

"Have you analysed it yet?"

"Not yet. It only arrived this morning."

"Oh. Think you might want to start cross-referencing these blobs with the missing persons register."

Fred wrinkled her nose.

"You think? What makes you say that?"

"There's a faint whiff of rotten meat. Digestive remains, Pet."

She pulled a face.

"Well that's plain nasty."

She tugged on some rubber gloves and began removing sterile instruments from their packaging.

"Maybe it's not human. S'pose it could be a cat or dog." He said doubtfully.

Then he appeared to lose interest, wiping his finger and resuming his tour of the lab. He found it fascinating. There was as much power to be found in a room like this, as in a whole book of magic, but it wasn't something that many demons had given much thought to. Luckily

She started probing through the mass, until she hit something solid. She poked a bit more and pulled out a piece of twisted metal.

"The remains of a buckle, at a guess. A dog collar?" She asked hopefully.

He glanced around.

"Nah, too big. Belt buckle. Human."

Fred sadly nodded her agreement.

"I'll ask Wesley to start researching. Guess we need to find out what sort of demon is capable of eradicating a human like that."

"You find it, luv, and me and the brooding avenger will make sure it never enjoys jell-o again."

Fred tapped away on the computer whilst Wesley peered at the screen from behind her shoulder, attempting to cross-reference the onscreen data with information from the Codex, which he held rather precariously, balancing it lightly on the back of Fred's chair.

Angel was a picture of concentration, writing up points arising form another lengthy and frankly tedious report he'd been given; Drug Culture: the Result of the Rising Demonic Population or the Cause? He hoped that they discovered something soon. He needed to kill something and he was fond of Fred and Wes. He eyed Spike speculatively. It had been too long since he'd been out on the streets, tracking, fighting and destroying evil. He glanced at Spike again. His boot had just grazed the very expensive leather couch. He was sure of it. Jeez, the boy was so fricking irritating. He bit his tongue and held out a bit longer, sensing that as soon as he'd been provoked into reacting he'd have lost. Spike would smirk and act like he'd won the ribbons in whatever warped game he was playing.

Spike was bored to tears. One glance at him and every line of his body screamed this was a bored vampire. Once again, he'd been told to stop interfering and keep out of everyone's way. What the hell did he care? Couldn't give a shit. Angel wouldn't let him grow up, so sod it, what was the point of trying point of trying? So they were back to playing games. He supposed it was one way to pass eternity.

He sprawled over the couch, one foot on the floor and one leg dangling over the arm. Sticking to the letter of the law by ensuring his boots didn't touch the leather, whilst infringing the spirit, by swinging his dangling foot within millimetres of the side of the couch. Ooops. Might accidentally have brushed it there. He was impressed that his Sire hadn't exploded yet. He swung his foot again.

Lazily leafing through a magazine that he'd found lying on someone's desk, completely unclaimed, so no way could it be classed as theft, he scanned through glossy photographs of inane stars and celebrities. He came to a halt and contemplated a double page spread. Keira Knightley was one side, her bright smile and youthful face shining from the page. The other was filled with a moody looking Depp, peering darkly into the camera. He stared at them both. Which would he choose, youth and beauty, or dark and broody? It was difficult, like trying to decide between Buffy and the... He glanced at Angel and hurriedly turned the page.

Oh. This article had potential. Find your personality type.

"If you were a type of cloth what would you be?" Spike read aloud. "Who the hell thinks up this crap? I mean, obviously I would be leather. Does leather qualify as cloth?"

Angel ignored him. To be honest, he hadn't really heard. He often switched off, allowing Spike's inconsequential babble to fade into the background. The boy was irrelevant in every way, but Angel wasn't completely heartless. He allowed Spike to stay, after all.

"Oy! Peaches. Listen, this is important. You were a cloth merchant when you were a real boy, so in your expert opinion, if I were a type of cloth what would I be?"

The downside was that for the sake of keeping the peace, he sometimes had to listen and respond to these irritating and trivial interruptions. Angel heard the strident tone and knew if he refused to answer it was just the sort of infuriating thing Spike would fixate on and run with. He considered for a moment before replying.


Spike considered this with a slightly pleased look.

"Hell, yeah! I get that. It's cool and never dates, unlike some vamps I could mention, and everyone wants it. Oh, and its blue like my eyes, you know, the faded blue denim, not that poncey, dark blue stuff."

Angel gave a thin smile, as he buried his nose in his report.

"Nope, denim because it's rough, common, cheap and blue…like your language."

Wesley glanced at Fred and they rolled their eyes in a 'here we go again' fashion. If they didn't know better they'd have almost thought the two enjoyed the constant bickering.

"Sod you! And hey, whaddya mean cheap?"

"Come on Spike, you're not exactly exclusive; Buffy, Harmony, Anya, Dru, Darla, Xander, Giles…"

"You what! Where the hell did Fatboy and Watcher appear from?"

"You're saying you stayed with them both and didn't manage to seduce either of them?"

"C'mon, I have my standards…"


"Nothing wrong with Harm – hot, attractive, intell…did I mention hot?"

Angel gave him a look.

"Ok. I didn't have much choice with Fatboy. He had me tied up and helpless in his basement."

Angel raised his eyebrows.

"Yeah, well. He thought he had me tied up and helpless and I didn't want to spoil his game for him. What can I say? I'm irresistible. My bad. As for the Watcher, I was chained in his bath, and what is it with everyone's bondage obsessions, anyway? Course, things got a bit more fun when he stood over me to take his shower…"

"Oh God." Angel shuddered. He was getting a very vivid picture. "Shut up, Spike. And for the record? Not how I want to imagine Giles."

Spike grinned and his pink tongue darted out, running over his bottom lip.

"Yeah, how you want to imagine me though. Just jealous cus it's everyone but you."

Angel wasn't even going to go there. He tore his gaze away from Spike's flickering tongue and returned to his book.

Wesley butted in.

"Spike. Would you please stop denigrating Mr Giles in this fashion, Rupert is the soul of gentility."

"Uh…are we actually talking about the same Giles? The soul of gentility eh? A bit like you then, Percy?"

Fred broke in, subtly trying to diffuse the tension that had suddenly surfaced.

"So what kind of cloth would I be?" She asked with a bright smile.

"Cashmere." Spike answered without hesitation.

"For once I'm in perfect agreement with Spike. Cashmere. Warm, soft, precious." Wesley smiled at her with affection.

"And bloody gorgeous."

Fred blushed lightly and grinned.

"So what would I be?" Wes asked, returning her smile.

"Oh…maybe cotton." She answered and Wesley's smile became slightly forced. "Clean and crisp, dependable, practical. I don't know." She laughed in embarrassment. "It's just sorta nice."

Wes nodded and turned away. She thought of him as everyday cotton.

Spike saw his face. Like cotton, it crumpled so easily

"Crisp cotton, always makes me think of a bed I want to leap into, and when its all white and gleaming it just makes me wanna dirty it up a bit."

Fred giggled, "Yeah, I know what you mean. It's sort of delicious isn't it?"

"It is that, Luv."

Wesley's ears had gone pink with pleasure and Angel looked up and gave his childe a faint smile of approval.

"Do you want to know what you are, Mate?"

Angel continued to work. He knew he didn't have to answer, there would be no stopping Spike anyway.


This clearly required comment.

"Uh huh. Burlap?"

"Yeah. Sackcloth. You know, what self-indulgent martyrs would dress themselves in whilst their hair shirts were being washed."

"Hmmm. Martyr? I guess it does suit me. Unpretentious, practical. Got that open weave, like my open personality." Angel agreed.

Spike didn't even try to hide his snort of derision.

"Your open personality! Stop. You're killing me here, Peaches. Nah. It's heavy, thick and irritating as hell. Clothing of peasants. Reminds me of dirt, stinking salt-marshes and peat bogs the colour of your eyes."

"Very poetic, Spike, thanks for that…Buffy used to say I had eyes like liquid chocolate."

"Lucky the Whelp didn't notice, he'd have sucked them out of your skull."

But he went quiet and withdrawn. She'd never said anything sweet to him.

Angel managed a full body shudder at the image of Xander's lips sealed over his eye-socket. Then noticed the sudden depression that had descended over Spike. He was tempted to ignore it. A depressed Spike was a miraculously quiet Spike. Before he could decide, Fred called out.

"I've found it."

Wesley read over her shoulder.

"A Chanokar demon. Looks human. Paralyses its victims and then the human facade splits open, revealing its digestive organ. It attaches to its captive and dissolves the body directly into its system."

"That explains the condition of the corpses." Spike commented. "If you can call a lump of jelly a corpse."

Now that Wesley had a name for the demon, he was able to quickly find details in the Codex.

"It hails from colder climes and prefers temperatures in the minus range."

"Are there any cold storage warehouses around there?"

Fred brought up a list of businesses within a mile of the recent murders.

"No. Wait. Meat storage – is that cold enough?"

"It could be."

"But why would it hunt if it's surrounded by food?"

"The warmth of the victims helps to maintain its own temperature in a cold environment." Wesley explained. "That's why it feeds directly from living people."

"There are some questions you just wished you'd never asked." Fred sighed.

"Ok. Is there an antidote to the paralysing agent?"

"I believe the paralysis itself is temporary, which is why the bodies are found in the streets - the Chanokar must feed where it attacks. The obvious conclusion is that the paralysis lasts only minutes."

Angel nodded.

"How do we kill it?"

"In its human guise it is impervious to metal or wood, but becomes vulnerable when it opens for feeding, then any attack to its body will kill it. Given it's preference for the cold, I suspect that heat would make it extremely uncomfortable."

"We're looking to kill it, Percy, not add to its discomfort."

"Yes, thank you for your input, Spike. Most valuable as usual."

"We'll take this. Spike?"

Spike shrugged, picked up his axe and turned to follow.

"Not cus I wanna help. Just bored and got nothing better to do."

"Noted." Angel agreed. "So you know what to do."

Spike gave a nod. Yeah, he knew the routine.

Alerted by an abruptly curtailed scream, they raced towards the noise. There in a side street they discovered the creature crouching over the body of a young man. The stench of fear was overpowering. They caught a glimpse of its demonic form before it straightened up, returning to its human guise.

"Not pretty." Angel said.

"Not planning on shagging it."

They both circled it, intent on shifting it away from its victim, who was staring out from wide terrified eyes. Spike made the first move, using a spinning kick to knock it aside. Angel followed through, bringing his sword into play, a broad stroke at the things neck whilst it was still reeling. To their amazement, the sword did not pierce the skin but glided smoothly over it.

They retreated slightly.

"So Wesley was right. Can't be pierced by metal." Angel said quietly.

"Some sort of magical protection shield."

"We need it to expose its true body."

"Need to make yourself look like food then."

"Why me? Good idea though. Ok, we have to pretend to lose the fight, let it paralyse one of us and the other will kill it."

"Right, that's the plan."

Spike dropped his axe and they moved in again, allowing the thing to strike them with a series of heavy blows. Spike was the first to fall, as one particular wild thrusting punch connected with his face and hurtled him backwards into a wall, hitting it with a resounding thump. He fell heavily and stayed down.

Opening an eye, he surreptitiously watched Angel attempting to deflect suspicion from their tactics by attacking hard whilst testing the demon's defences, hoping to find a genuine opening. Spike quietly cursed him, why couldn't he ever stick to the bloody plan?

He noticed the man to his left seemed to be recovering somewhat. He'd been mistaken, nothing more than a kid really.

"Can you move yet?"

One arm lifted slightly and a nod of the head confirmed that Wesley's theory concerning the temporary nature of the paralysis was also correct.

"It's alright, we have a plan. Just lay still and act terrified."

The kid gave a grimace and Spike gave him an encouraging grin.

"That's the look. You must be doing acting classes."

Angel was fighting well. His speed and strength were telling at first, but again and again the thing just kept getting to its feet, with no injuries to show for the violent exchanges. The Chanokar's invulnerability was beginning to dominate the fight. It finally managed to grapple the sword away from Angel by grasping the blade and pushing back, ramming Angel's knuckles painfully into a metal dumpster and weakening his grip. One twist and the weapon changed hands.

It was enough. With a clumsy stab the vampire was pierced through the chest. Angel staggered, as though mortally wounded. Suddenly, a crack appeared in its shell and an appendage darted from the creature, striking the side of Angel's face. He immediately froze and dropped hard onto the unforgiving sidewalk.

Spike tensed, he had to get the timing perfect. Mustn't move before it had opened to feed, mustn't wait too long and allow Angel to get injured…much.

He heard a grunt and saw that the kid had managed to manoeuvre himself into a standing position. He ignored this development and turned back to watch over Angel.

"Shit plan. That guy gets eaten and then it comes for us." The kid whined, eyes wild with fear. "I've got a better one. Feed you to that monster and I run."

Spike was concentrating on his sire, and noticed too late the gun in the boy's hand, the depressed trigger and brief flares, which appeared microseconds before two sharp detonations.

A cry of pain and the crack of treacherous shots reverberating hollowly in the night, chasing down the empty street, ricocheting off industrial buildings in never ending ripples of sound. Uneven footsteps sliced through the rebounding wall of sound, as the kid unsteadily lurched and fell into darkness.

Spike felt a blast of black, burning pain in his legs that hit him like sickness. Bone had shattered and splintered, blood spewed out around him. The demon whipped around, saw Spike's broken kneecaps, gave a malevolent leer and turned back to his paralysed prey.

"Oh hell! Angel, I can't move. Oh Goddammit! I'm sorry. You hear me? I can't help you! The kid shot my sodding legs away."

He was almost howling in desperation. He threw himself forward and cried aloud as the movement caused searing agony to burn through him. He began to retch and vomit. A wave of blackness was breaking over him. He fought it with all he had. He heard a tearing sound and knew the dreadful noise was the splitting of the human shell and the demon emerging. It was going to feed.

"Nooo! Christ, Angel! I'm sorry, I'm sorry…"

He dragged himself forward, nails clawing madly into concrete; attempting to obtain some purchase, to gain another few inches. A trail of viscous blood marked his progress. He was almost within reach, but too weak. What could he do? Bat at it aggressively? He wouldn't even make the thing uncomfortable. Discomfort… that struck a chord in his head.

He reached into his coat pocket. There it was, he gripped it tightly and brought his hand up just within touch of the Chanokar. He clicked feebly. Not enough strength. He did it again, this time more firmly. The flame leapt up from his reliable, old lighter and caught the cotton shirt that clothed the demon. There was a brief flare, followed by a wet sort of explosion, like the bursting of a water balloon and the thing disappeared as Spike was showered in a deluge of demon blood and guts. He caught Angel's eye, before giving into the call of welcoming darkness.

For what felt like an eternity, Angel could only watch with black frustration as the lifeblood seeped from his childe. He could feel a rage churning through him. Spike, drenched in pain, forced to slither over this filthy sidewalk, frantically trying to save him. The urge to track and rip the traitorous human to shreds was almost unbearable.

As movement returned, he reached for his cell phone and with fingers that were shaky with anger, he clumsily punched the keypad. Wesley received the call. They needed blood. Lots of blood.

Angel stretched towards a wooden pallet that was leaning against the dumpster, dragged it towards him and pulled off a couple of slats of wood. He struggled out of his coat, removed his shirt and tore it into serviceable strips. With his recovering strength he heaved himself towards Spike and bound hideously injured legs securely to the wood, hoping to prevent any further damage when moving the unconscious vampire into the car. He caught a glimpse of the lighter, lying under a pile of noxious goo. It had been tarnished by the substance and he gave it a quick clean before pocketing it.

Spike was silent and still, but there was no pleasure in the peace it offered. He should have been striding along, talkative and irritating, axe swinging loosely by his side. Angel picked him up, settled him awkwardly against his chest and returned to the car. As he drove carefully through the dark LA streets, one hand rested lightly on Spike, whether it was to give reassurance or receive it, he couldn't say.

Wesley was waiting for them. His face creased with distress when he saw the injuries and he rushed forward to help carry the unconscious vampire.

"The monster did this?"

"Guess you could call him a monster. It was the human we rescued."

"Good god! Why?"

"He was afraid the thing was coming back for him. He wanted to live, so to give himself more of a chance he made Spike into easy prey."

"You managed to rescue him, though. Well done, Angel."

"I couldn't move. It had already paralysed me. He dragged himself across the ground and set the thing on fire."

Wesley's eyes were alight with sympathy.

"God, he must have been in agony."

"Jeez, Wesley. He just kept telling me he was sorry, he was so frigging sorry."

"No one could ever say he lacked courage."

"No. Many things, but never that."

"He'll heal."

"Yeah, he will."

The elevator doors opened.

"Help me put him on the bed."

Wesley nodded.

"Where's Fred?"

"She's gone for extra blood."


"Is there anything else I can do?"

Spike needed cleaning but he wouldn't humiliate the injured vampire by letting the humans see him in this state. He shook his head.

"Just bring up the blood when Fred comes back."

Wesley quietly left and Angel drew a bath hot enough for steam to curl and rise, white feathery tendrils caressed his skin and left beads of moisture hanging like tears upon his face. He removed Spike's coat and shirt. The jeans would need cutting. He worked steadily until every scrap of material and the rough splinting were removed. The shattered white bone of one leg was visibly showing through the skin and Angel was anxious that the kneecap might have been destroyed. He'd noticed in the past that vampire healing was better at repairing than re-growth. Luckily, the human had been a lousy shot, missed the kneecap and hit the lower femur. The other leg had possibly fared even better. The bullet had chipped the patella and damaged the joint. Although it would be painful and Spike would be unable to walk for a while, it should heal quickly enough.

He lowered Spike into the bath and carefully cleaned him. He could hardly credit that it had been over a hundred years since they had last shared this sort of intimacy, although this probably didn't count as sharing, considering Spike was still out cold and delicately veined eyelids shuttered the blue of his eyes. His hands moved gently over his childe and the tightly coiled rage receded, as if he needed the reassurance of physical contact to prove that Spike was still with him. Why it should weigh on him like this he couldn't say and he refused to examine too closely the exquisite pleasure he found in the simple act of trailing fingers over fine, porcelain skin or gently massaging shampoo into blonde hair that fell into cherubim curls.

Physically, he found Spike remarkably changed. There was a leanness and sinewy strength that he couldn't remember seeing before. His hands skimmed lightly over wiry muscularity, surprised at the bulging hardness he discovered. Wondering when William had become so strong, his hand lingered on a bicep and unconsciously, his thumb gently stroked down the swollen flesh. He realised what he was doing and guiltily snatched his hand away. His reaction was nothing, just a fascination at the differences he'd found - so much for the myth that vampires were unchanging. Returning to the mutilated areas, he quickly and clinically ensured there were no remaining shreds of cloth to contaminate the wound. He eased Spike out of the brackish, cooling water, into the comfort of a warmed towel.

Wesley must have returned. There was a cool box filled with packets of blood left next to the bed. Human blood.

He splinted the legs securely and then gently examined the other injuries: burns from the corrosive insides of the demon, some cuts and grazes. He peered closely at Spike's face and reached for the tweezers, carefully drawing out a splinter of bone from below his eye, shrapnel from when his femur shattered in the blast. Fingernails were torn, some had turned black and some had been ripped out entirely, and that injury more than any other unsettled him most of all. The sound of the gunshots, the scream of pain and the shuffling sound as Spike desperately attempted to reach him. Then the despairing cries and pitiful apologies. Angel looked at him as though he'd never seen him before, and tenderly bandaged his hands.

Snugly wrapping the covers around him, Angel was struck by a thought that held all the clarity and resonance of revelation; somehow, this irritating vampire wasn't as irrelevant as he had once been. There was no-one else he'd rather have his back in a fight. Somewhere along the line he'd become dependent on the other vampire's strength and tenacity. Spike might complain (vociferously) and protest undying hatred (continuously), but when the chips were down he could be depended upon in a fight. It was puzzling, but he couldn't pinpoint when this reliance had begun and why he'd never noticed it before.

Angel finally looked to his own injuries. Showering clean and binding the stab wound, which was already beginning to heal. There was some burning from where the demon had begun to feed, but fortunately it hadn't relished his cold flesh. Exhaustion and the lingering effects of the paralysis were beginning to overwhelm him and he sank back into the seductive softness of his bed. Lying outside of the covers he looked at Spike's injured face and admitted to the stirring of something akin to affection. Was it really over a hundred years since they'd laid like this? He thought about it and did a quick calculation in his head.

One hundred and twenty-five years. To the day. He looked at Spike and remembered how he'd stood this morning with a welcoming smile on his lips. He remembered the meeting, where he'd wanted to talk about some ideas he'd had. He remembered his own self-satisfaction as he'd prodded and aggravated until Spike lost it and crashed out of the meeting. He remembered Spike struggling against excruciating pain to save him.

Something was clenching desperately inside Angel's gut. His viewpoint skewed and suddenly tilted a few degrees.

He reached out towards Spike and drifted into sleep, a protective arm wrapped around the injured vampire.