Being in the wrong and having to apologize was bad enough. Angel rather prided himself, though, on getting to the point where he could recognize the need to apologize, especially without Cordelia poking him.

But this--

He stared at Giles, hoping the man would suddenly give a Ripper-esque smile of satisfaction that he'd put one over on Angel. Heaven knew Angel deserved any number of revenges from Giles, petty or profound.

"You're not serious," he said finally, unable to hold out any longer.

Giles just shook his head as he watched Angel from the other side of the Magic Box counter. "I'm not the one you need to apologize to--this time."

They both looked away from each other until the moment passed.

"But--them . . ." Angel said.

"I'm afraid so." And there was Ripper peeking out. "It was their plan you disrupted, a plan which, quite to my surprise, was working quite well."

"Since when the hell have Spike and Xander been working together?"

Giles' left hand came up halfway to his face, then he reached for a chunky cluster of amethyst crystals on the counter to fidget with. "They, um--since the wedding didn't happen, Spike and Xander have-- well, Xander said something about male companionship close to his own age."

"Spike's nearly a hundred and fifty years old, alive and dead."

"I'm fairly sure he meant mentally."

Angel nodded in understanding. "Still, you let them go out against demons together?"

"Let? I wasn't able to be here for the wedding, and by the time I got here, the two of them were already settled into their bizarre buddy movie and the girls were looking relieved and amused."

"Even Buffy?"

Angel smelled sudden blood as a chunk of the amethyst cluster broke off, but Giles showed no sign. "Buffy--is one of the most relieved. Something about them distracting each other."

"From what?"

Giles put the crystals down firmly. "Perhaps you can ask them. I have work to do."

Angel took the blatant hint and left.

Another demonic drug ring had popped up, using one of the outlying hangers at LAX as a trading area. Various suppliers brought their goods to the hanger, where the brokers set up shipments to go around the world. When Angel had gone to poke around, he overheard complaints about someone named Doc up on the Hellmouth who was getting more and more demanding about his percentage. The description of the vampire in the long leather coat and bleached hair had been enough to tell Angel that his next stop was Sunnydale.

And what had he found in the back room of that truck stop by the freeway but Spike drinking whiskey with demonic representatives of the drug ring--and Xander Harris sullenly leaning against a wall. Questions about Slayer interference in the business had been raised; Spike had sneered and waved his whiskey glass at Xander, pointing out that their man on the inside would keep the Slayer away from things that didn't concern her. Only the look of mingled fear and disgust that Xander had sent towards Spike had kept Angel from bursting in and breaking up the whole thing. He lurked outside, waiting to see if Xander was being coerced into helping--only to be pounced on by an equally lurking Buffy, who demanded to know why he was trying to ruin everything.

Now Giles had confirmed Buffy's story of Spike and Xander concocting a way to break the Sunnydale connection with a masquerade that had already gone on for two months. And Angel had nearly ruined everything, risking both the masquerade and Spike and Xander's lives.

It turned out the two of them were all but living together in Xander's apartment, with Spike's old crypt serving as meeting place for demons. Angel pulled up in front of Xander's apartment building, practicing his greeting so the first words out of his mouth weren't "Please tell me you have separate bedrooms."

He knocked on Xander's door. A minute later, he knocked again, louder.

"Keep your hair gel on!" came the dreaded, familiar voice.

The door opened; Angel braced himself, but he wasn't prepared to see Spike in all his naked glory, hair every which way, reeking of recent sex, and smiling in a pleased, predatory way that said payback was a bitch.

"Toldja," Spike called over his shoulder, then he leaned against the door frame. He sniffed audibly. "So . . . Slayer's word wasn't good enough, you had to double-check with Rupert, eh?"

"I--"

Xander came out of the bedroom, rubbing his eyes and running his fingers through his hair. He wore long, loose pants and nothing else. "Jesus, Spike, put something on or close the door. I've got neighbors."

"And your neighbors know you've got me."

"And they don't need to know everything you've got."

Angel barely listened. This was Xander Harris? Where was the lanky, twitchy teenager whose every molecule screamed inferiority issues? This young man was rolling his shoulders and twisting his torso, loosening his spine. Dark, sardonic eyes met Angel's through a fall of thick hair without any kind of flinch or apology.

"He's spoken for," Spike said flatly. "What are you doing here?"

Angel pulled his attention away from Xander. At least he knew what to expect from Spike. Which, he realized, was part of the problem. He'd seen Spike's challenging glare before, but it was the old, darker instincts that stirred in response. Angelus would only have allowed that challenge as long as it amused him, then slapped it away before re-establishing his dominance. Angel debated turning around and letting the apology go unsaid rather than allow himself to be in any sort of submissive position to Spike.

Xander went to the kitchen and came back with a bottle of water. "Maybe he's here to apologize for nearly fucking up that meeting with Grozier."

"Not hardly," Spike snorted. "This one doesn't apologize for anything."

Angel had to twitch at that. "Actually--look, can I come in?"

"No," Xander and Spike said at the same time.

"Fine, I'll do this in the hall." He made a show of fidgeting and eased a foot towards the doorway. It bumped against an invisible barrier.

Spike's smirk became more pronounced. "That's right, Peaches. I'm on this side and you're on that side. Tell your story and move along, you're only getting out of an arse-kicking because you showed up five minutes later than you could have."

Angel shrugged and shoved away the mental pictures. "I am here to apologize. I didn't realize what you two were up to, I thought you were part of a problem I'm having in LA. I'm sorry I nearly messed it up for you, and I hope it doesn't cause you problems in the future."

Spike found his voice first. "Damn right you nearly screwed everything up! We're two weeks from convincing those shitheads that Sunnyhell's not worth the grief of dealing with, and the great avenger comes tromping in on great bat feet to stick his nose in where it doesn't belong."

Xander stuck a hand over Spike's mouth. "Thank you," he said to Angel. "Good-bye."

Angel nodded and turned to leave. Maybe he was getting off lightly after all.

Or not.

"Oi, you call that an apology?" Spike had gotten free. "I want groveling! I never got away with anything like that piss poor apology in the old days."

Slowly, Angel turned. "Spike, that was a long, bad time ago--"

"It was barely four years ago," Spike snarled. "I can break it down into months, weeks, and days if you want."

Xander put a hand on Spike's shoulder. Angel closed his eyes. "You don't have to," he said softly. "I know."

"You know." Spike strode out into the hall. "Then don't you think I deserve a better apology?"

Angel opened his eyes to glare at Spike. "I made you do things no one should have to. No way in hell am I going to do them. Besides, I already apologized."

"You made me do worse just for taking a cigar without permission, I'm not letting you off that easy."

"Spike!" Xander interrupted. "Get in here, you two. You're not having a Spike-Angelus smackdown in my hallway. Yes, that was an invitation, Angel, get your ass in here."

Angel walked into the apartment, amazed, and Spike sulked in after him. Xander closed the door firmly and glared at the pair of them. "As much as I'm in favor of making Angel grovel, I think we're losing the big picture."

"What big picture?" Spike frowned.

"He's working the same drug ring thing we are, just from the LA end."

"Oh, you are not suggesting we cooperate with him."

Angel let the argument fade away. As Xander gestured and his muscles flexed, the drawstring pants inched lower and lower. If he wasn't careful, one of those wide gestures could--

"Ow!" He rubbed his arm and glared at Spike.

"If I have to tell you one more time to keep your eyes to yourself," Spike snarled, "you're going to be losing them."

"You think you can try--"

"What the hell are you two on about now?" Xander demanded, hitching up his pants.

"Oh, as if you don't know, standing there like that," Angel snapped. He should never have come anywhere near these people.

"What? How is this my fault?"

Angel gaped at him, then turned to stare at Spike. Spike shrugged, and Angel looked at Xander. He turned back to Spike. "He has no clue, does he."

Spike's smirk was definitely pleased. "One of his best qualities, actually."

"And you let him wander around those sorts of demons without knowing what's going on?"

"He doesn't go anywhere near them without me."

"And that's enough to keep them off him?"

Spike snarled, but Xander's whistle interrupted anything more. "What are you two talking about? What do I have no clue about?"

Angel glanced at Spike, then shrugged. "That you're distractingly gorgeous, especially from a demonic point of view."

Xander's jaw dropped in disbelief rapidly followed by horror. He looked at Spike, who shrugged and nodded. "What he said, love."

"Oh my god, brain bleach!" He shook himself. "OK, this is some bizarre payback for us making you apologize. The demon magnet thing was a joke and a very temporary spell--right?"

"Demon magnet?" Angel repeated.

"Willow spell gone wrong," Spike said quickly. "Pay it no mind."

"Why am I--" Xander shuddered "--especially gorgeous to demons, pray tell?"

Spike grinned. "You go back and forth between 'so tough we just have to see what he can take' and 'how many pieces might he fall into if we pull out this little bit'. Plus you're just very nice to look at."

Xander stared at Spike in appalled disbelief, then looked at Angel, who shrugged. "Sorry. It's a demon thing. Except for the pleasant to look at part, which should appeal to just about anybody."

Xander shook himself. "You two were fighting just a couple of minutes ago. Why are you agreeing now?"

"I can hate him and still agree with him," Angel protested.

"Didn't the whole hot pokers to classical music thing take care of that?"

"Not hardly," Spike said.

"The hell it did," Angel added. "I owe you for that, boy."

"Not on your best day, poof."

"Fine!" Xander yelled. "It was a mistake thinking you two could work together, never mind, good-bye, Angel, drive safe, say Hi to Cordy for me."

One more glare to Spike and a nod to Xander, and Angel headed for the door.

"You still owe me a decent apology," Spike said.

Hand on the doorknob, Angel didn't turn. "I already apologized for interfering with your drug ring plan. There is no apology possible for everything else. Just leave it, Spike. 'I'm sorry' is just going to have to be enough." He turned the doorknob.

"I think you on your knees might be a fair start," Spike purred. "That's how all my apologies always started."

Angel let the door close and tried very hard to ignore the remembered images fighting for his attention. "No."

"One against how many hundred? Barely a nick in the score."

How interesting to discover there were limits to how far he'd go in seeking his redemption. But maybe if it was anyone else but Spike, he wouldn't feel this hot iron resistance. He turned and looked at Spike. "Not from me, not to you, not in this or any other century." He expected the hatred in those hard blue eyes, but not the fury and not the pain.

Xander stepped forward cautiously. "Spike, just let him go. We don't need to have anything to do with him, just let him leave."

The boy smelled of Spike and sex, Angel noticed. The scent added sweet dimension to the memories that were escaping. Some of the offenses Spike had committed had been done purely as an excuse to apologize.

The sneer of memories dropped from Spike's voice, leaving just cold promise. "Your eyes track towards him one more millimeter with that on your mind, and I will take out your heart where you stand."

Angel knew what his smile had to look like, but he couldn't stop himself. "But I owe him an apology, too."

Spike was actually trembling. "You do not lay one hand on him, you keep your thoughts away from him, you will not do to him what you've done to everything else of mine I ever--"

Xander stepped up and put his arms around Spike. "Stop. Not going to happen. Leave it be."

The rage dropped from Spike, and he let his head fall forward, before rolling it to rest on Xander's shoulder.

What was a hope of redemption against that? Angel stared at them, feeling his soul scoured empty. "You don't need anything more from me, Spike," he whispered. "You already have your revenge."

Xander stared at him, every bit of the old hatred and resentment back in his eyes. Angel nodded and turned back to the door, but not before Spike raised his head. Contempt in those eyes was no more than Angel deserved. The anger and regret were more than he could deal with.

He said nothing and walked out the door.