It was two days before they could arrange a meeting with Angel. He and Gunn had needed time to recover from handling a former client, a necromancer who'd been displeased to discover that Wolfram and Hart was no longer in the business of supplying him with corpses from freshly-robbed graves. Wesley could have told Angel – had tried to, in fact – that a sorcerer with power over the dead would be exceptionally dangerous for a vampire to face head-on.
Angel hadn't wanted to listen.
Angel was like that, sometimes, but perhaps if they all still worked at the Hyperion, Wesley would have been able to corner him, convince him to develop some sort of strategy instead of depending on his sense of self-righteousness to see him through.
Wesley pursed his lips. As much as Angel believed they could change Wolfram and Hart from within, he couldn't help the dread that came from knowing that their new headquarters would change them, as well. The process would be inevitable; inexorable as wind erosion and just as difficult to perceive in the short-term. It would begin with the little things; perfectly legitimate reasons not to speak to one another as work took precedence, for example. But how long would it take before he and the others weren't even crossing paths for days on end; how long before they noticed?
How long before it stopped mattering to them? How long before their tight-knit family, their friendships, were nothing but a fond memory?
In fact, the process had already begun. They'd never had to compare schedules before, Wesley thought; never needed to go through intermediaries, to leave messages with secretaries and assistants. Make bloody appointments just to see each other.
And then there were the topics themselves.
"You're telling me that Spike's alive?" Angel growled. "That he's turning human?"
"Not precisely," said Dr. Sato. They were all gathered in Angel's private conference room to discuss Sato's findings and what they might mean; Gunn leaned against one window and Lorne was reclining off to one side, while the rest sat around the table with Angel at its head. The doctor pushed his glasses up his nose, tapped delicately on a sheaf of papers in front of him. "The changes in brain activity –"
"You're telling me that limey pain in the ass is stealing my Shanshu?"
Well. Most of them were there to discuss Sato's findings. Angel seemed already to have made up his mind.
Wesley pinched the bridge of his nose. "Angel, please," he sighed. "There is nothing to suggest that –"
Angel slashed one hand through the air, his eyes hard and mouth tight with indignation. "He has a heartbeat, Wes, tell me how that's nothing to suggest!"
"Semantics," said Sato. Angel glared at him and the doctor simply gazed back with perfect calm. "I have told you that his heart beats. That is not the same as having a heartbeat." He tapped the sheaf of papers again, with just the tip of his ring finger. "As you would know if you did not permit your personal feelings to interfere with your ability to listen."
The entire room fell silent at that. Fred's face was a picture of surprise, Gunn was rubbing one hand across his mouth to hide a smirk, and Wesley fought to school his own expression to stillness. Angel, for his part, looked stunned at such a direct rebuke. Another way that life here was changing them, Wesley thought; the actions, motives, and decisions of executives like Angel simply weren't questioned if one wanted to keep one's position on the corporate ladder.
It looked like Angel was getting used to the treatment. Embracing it, in fact. Wesley frowned.
Lorne coughed politely, breaking the tension. "Yeah… Sorry, Doc, but I don't really speak medical. Would you mind going over it again?"
Sato nodded. "Of course, Mr. Lorne," he said. "We have been monitoring Mr. Spike's brain activity since he was brought to the infirmary two days ago. Of course, it is most unusual for a vampire to exhibit such activity at all. I have already explained why, ne?" When Lorne nodded, he continued. "We now also monitor his heart and respiration, among other responses, because Mr. Spike's brain activity suggested that his body would attempt to use those organs. And we have found that Mr. Spike's heart will sometimes beat," he paused, narrowed his eyes at Angel, "though only for short intervals. The longest period of activity lasted only eighty-seven minutes, and in that time his pulse varied between six and twenty-one beats per minute. That is not sufficient to sustain a living body, even if it were continuous, which it has not been. It is common for Mr. Spike's heart to beat for only a few seconds and then return to inactivity for hours at a time. So you see, he does not have a 'heartbeat' in the sense that Mr. Angel is concerned about."
Lorne nodded; Angel leaned back in his chair, arms folded.
"You mentioned respiration?" asked Fred.
Dr. Sato nodded. "Hai, Dr. Fred. Similar. Erratic, interrupted for long periods of time, and insufficient for survival." He scratched under his chin, where Wesley could see he'd missed a spot shaving. "However, it is my belief that these responses may improve, based on the lab results we've received."
"You're talking about the stuff you found on the floor under his bed?" asked Fred. "I was wondering about that. I mean, with the amulet and all, we were thinking it might be some sort of ectoplasm…?"
But Dr. Sato was grinning again. "Approximately eighty years' worth of nicotine residue. It appears that Mr. Spike smoked tobacco regularly."
Fred and Gunn both made faces, while Lorne muttered a soft "eugh". "Living lungs would attempt to clear themselves daily," said Sato with a nod. "You are familiar with the phrase 'smoker's cough'? Dead lungs would of course have no need to clear themselves at all. Mr. Spike, on the other hand…" He scratched under his chin again and shrugged.
Wesley sat back in his chair, trying to fit the pieces together. "It seems almost as if Spike's body is preparing for life, while not yet actually living," he mused.
"Just so," said Sato. "His SATs – pardon me, the oxygen saturation level in his blood – remains below twenty percent. In a living human, a saturation lower than eighty-five percent would be fatal within minutes. In addition, not one of his blood samples or cell cultures reveals living tissue." He leaned forward in his seat. "Mr. Angel," he said, "as a vampire you are not living, yet you imitate life by walking, speaking, and other such behavior. All we can say for now is that Mr. Spike seems to imitate life in greater detail. That may change, but for now it has not."
"What makes you think it might?" asked Gunn.
"The coughing," said Sato. "Mr. Wesley observes that the body seems to be preparing for life. The lungs have already cleared to the point that Mr. Spike's blood, when it circulates, can collect a small amount of oxygen, even if it is not a viable amount right now. I have ordered precautions to be taken, in the event that Mr. Spike resumes kidney function or other excretion."
"Which means what?" asked Gunn.
Wesley cleared his throat uncomfortably. "A catheter," he said, "among other things." Gunn grimaced, ran a hand across the back of his neck.
"As brain activity continues to increase, we may see other organs begin to perform their normal functions," continued Sato. "So far we have seen a focus on eliminating waste from the body. Lungs expel carbon dioxide. Blood – circulating blood – carries waste to the kidneys. We have not observed kidney response, but if it begins I will feel more confident that Mr. Spike is preparing to return to life. And of course, if any of our cell cultures indicate the presence of living tissue, we will know for certain."
"I still," grumbled Angel, "want to know why the words 'Spike' and 'living' are showing up in the same sentence."
"I cannot answer that, very sorry," said Dr. Sato. "I can only tell you what we have seen, and how it appears to be occurring. Why is not only another matter, it is a completely different discipline from medicine altogether."
"Yes…" said Wesley. He didn't realize the rest of the room was waiting for him to continue until Lorne spoke up.
"Care to share with the rest of the class, cupcake?" he asked.
"Hm? Oh." Wesley shook himself. "Dr. Sato – and Angel – just brought it to my attention that we've been neglecting the mystical approach to Spike's… predicament. A different discipline, you see. I haven't been able to find much more information about the amulet than what Angel gave Buffy prior to its use. But we also haven't considered its effect on Spike apart from the physical changes he's enduring. We haven't looked at what it may have done to him on a spiritual level – or demonic, if you prefer."
"You've been covering the ancient wisdom stuff," said Gunn, "but I might be able to uncover something in Records. Where the amulet came from, who brought it here and when. That'd help, right?"
"We should see if it ties in to the Shanshu prophecy," said Angel.
"I can try and analyze the amulet again – or, well, what's left of it anyway," Fred offered. "There might be something I've missed."
"I'm sure you've covered everything, Fred," Wesley smiled. "Perhaps you could assist Dr. Sato I some way?"
"I could give it a shot," she said. "I mean, I'm mostly a physicist, but if it's okay with you, Dr. Sato, I could look over your results so far?"
"Of course, Dr. Fred," he replied.
"For my part," said Wesley, "I'd like to see if there are any experts on staff who could tell us more about Spike's, er, metaphysical wellbeing."
"I know a guy who knows a shaman," offered Lorne. "I mean, he doesn't work for the firm, here, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing."
"Look into it," said Angel. "Dr. Sato, keep us posted." The doctor gathered his papers, gave a little bow to each of them, and left.
When he was gone, Angel pushed his chair back and stood. "Is there anything else?"
"Buffy," said Wesley.
Angel froze. "What about her?"
"I assume you have her contact information," said Wesley.
"Well, yeah," said Angel, "but why would you need it?"
Wesley's eyebrow rose; out of the corner of his eye he could see Gunn stiffen in his seat. "You don't think she should be notified that Spike is here?" Wesley asked. His eyes narrowed when Angel hunched his shoulders and glanced off to one side. "Angel?"
"It's just Spike," Angel hedged, "she wouldn't –"
"Guy saved the world," said Gunn, "I'm pretty sure she would." He pushed away from his spot against the wall to step closer to the head of the table.
"If one of us turned up somewhere, you'd want to know, right?" said Lorne. "I mean, especially if you thought we were dead." He leaned forward in his armchair and looked at Angel, elbows on his knees, his usual cheerful demeanor gone.
"Well. I mean… it's Buffy," said Angel. "She's going through a lot right now, she doesn't need –"
"How 'bout you let her decide what she needs," said Gunn. He folded his arms and scowled, his head tilted back, the three-piece suit no disguise for the street fighter underneath.
"I'm pretty sure I know what she needs where Spike is concerned," said Angel, irritated. "He's a pain in the ass whose entire purpose in life is to screw things up for everyone else. You saw how he acted. She's better off without him around trying to –"
Fred slapped her hands on the table and stood. "I don't believe you!" she said, eyes flashing. "Spike was right – you really would be happier if Buffy were still some little girl so you could decide who she gets to talk to and who you can keep from her. And Spike – you don't think he deserves any consideration, just because you have history with him and you don't want him anywhere near Buffy!"
"Fred, it's not like –" Angel began, but Fred cut him off again.
"He showed up here and it's like you turned into a twelve-year-old," she accused. "You told me before how you and she can't be together, but what – you're going to sit there and tell me you somehow have the right to decide who she can be with? What is this, Angel? You can't have her, so nobody else can, either?"
"Spike's no good for her," Angel returned, but this time it was Wesley who interrupted.
"We have only your word on that," he said levelly. "Just as we only knew Spike was an occasional ally because you chose not to tell us anything more about the true depth of his involvement in Buffy's cause. And we were unaware that Spike was granted a soul, because, and I quote, it 'didn't seem that important' – to you – to tell us." Now Wesley stood slowly, leveling Angel a look bordering on disgust. "So good of you to step in and make those judgments on our behalf."
"Are you forgetting who we're talking about here?" demanded Angel. "Spike? The guy who showed up a few years ago and had me tortured? Am I the only one here who remembers that?" He glared at them all in turn, furious, and once again Wesley was reminded of the changes Wolfram and Hart would work upon them.
"I mean, come on," Angel was saying, "he tried to kill Buffy half a dozen times, but oh, now he's supposedly switched sides so it's all okay? Buffy – she had him wear the amulet, not me. And it burned him up. It killed him. His coming back was a fluke. She had to know it was gonna – he was probably just the throwaway g–"
"Oh, no," said Gunn. "Now I know you were not just gonna say Spike was the 'throwaway guy'."
Angel froze, brought up short by the anger simmering in Gunn's voice.
"Angel." Wesley pulled his attention away from Gunn before the shouting match could start. "First you were angry that Buffy chose Spike instead of you to wear the amulet," he said quietly. "And you insisted to me that you didn't know what the amulet's power would actually do. Yet you somehow expect us to believe that Buffy would have understood the amulet's true purpose."
Angel opened his mouth, but nothing came out.
"And then we find out that the amulet would have killed you if you'd worn it," said Gunn. "If it killed Spike, it woulda killed you too. And now that we know that, instead of it being an honor to wear the damn thing – an honor you thought you deserved over him – now all of a sudden putting it on means Spike was the designated red shirt?"
Lorne scoffed. "I wonder that makes Doyle."
Angel rounded on him, fists clenched, voice low and guttural. "What did you say?"
"I'm just following your logic, Angel-cakes," said Lorne. Now he stood, too, shaking his head in disbelief. "Doyle died so we wouldn't have to. From everything you've just said, I guess that makes him – what did you call it? – oh yeah, the throwaway guy."
"Doyle was a hero," Angel bit out, "and you know it." He stepped toward Lorne, teeth bared, but as soon as he moved Gunn was in front of him, just inches from his face.
"Then maybe you should consider the idea that Spike was, too," he said. "I don't even know the guy – I wasn't there, I don't know what went down – but I do know he was on Buffy's team and he got killed in the fight. So just maybe he was a hero, too. And if you were thinking of anybody besides yourself you could admit the possibility."
Gunn locked eyes with Angel for a long, tense moment; Angel glared, his lip curling, but Gunn refused to back down, the only sign of his anger his narrowed eyes and the muscle jumping along his jaw.
Finally, Angel looked away and stepped back, and Wesley heard Fred let out the breath she must have been holding. Lorne passed a hand across his forehead and adjusted his tie; Gunn turned and picked up his briefcase.
"Fine," Angel gritted out. "But I still don't think Buffy –"
"Cordelia," blurted Fred.
Angel's brow furrowed, confusion and hurt chasing one another across his face. "What?"
"I'm sorry, Angel," she said quietly. She wouldn't look at him, focusing instead on her fingers as they twisted together and pulled at the buttons on her lab coat. "I know you don't like to talk about her. About what happened to her. But if Cordelia were to wake up – right now, today – would you really think it was okay for the hospital to keep that from us? Shouldn't we get to choose whether or not to go see her, if that happened? Or would you really, honestly think that someone else had the right to make that choice for us?" Fred looked up then, her face sad but determined. "I know you and Spike don't get along. But if you decide not to let Buffy know he's back, just because of whatever bad blood is between you, then you're taking her choices – her right to those choices – away from her. She doesn't deserve that."
Fred moved toward the door, Lorne behind her, as the others stood in silence. She paused with her hand on the doorknob. "I know you're the man in charge here at this big corporation now," she said. "And I know we all owe you a lot. But even being CEO doesn't give you that kind of authority, and it doesn't mean that you don't owe anything to anybody else."
She and Lorne left, closing the door quietly behind them.
"What she said, man," added Gunn. He stalked out, face still hard. Wesley heard him muttering, "Maybe when you get your head outta your ass…" before he was out of earshot.
The two men left watched one another, saying nothing; Wesley could tell Angel was hoping he'd speak first, release the tension and let Angel escape from the moment. Instead, he waited, his posture calm, face betraying nothing of his disappointment.
Finally Angel slumped, ducking his head and resting his fingers along the edge of the table.
"Wes?" He started to speak, stopped. Traced his fingers across the table. "Do you…?"
"You have a lot to think about," said Wesley. "And not only as regards Spike, or Buffy."
"I don't understand," said Angel.
"This place is changing us," said Wesley, "changing you especially. The vassal does not gainsay the lord of the manor. It never used to be that way between us," he explained. "You used to value our input; seek it out. Today, however… You seemed genuinely surprised that any of us would disagree with you just now."
Angel frowned at the table, but said nothing.
"You're beginning to treat us less as your friends, and more as employees," said Wesley. "Have a care to the way this place – its atmosphere, its culture – affects your own behavior. Otherwise it won't be long before you find you prefer to be surrounded by yes-men than by the people who've stood by you in your darkest hours. Once that happens, I think you'll find that you've ceased to care about changing Wolfram and Hart from within; instead it will have absorbed you and eliminated one of its strongest adversaries."
Wesley waited, but Angel only turned away to look out the window. Disappointed, Wesley gathered his things and moved toward the door.
He was almost gone when Angel said quietly, "Spike said the same thing."
"Well – not in so many words," said Angel, still facing the window. "And, y'know, he was a lot less polite about it. But yeah. That day while he was still a ghost. He said that attacking from the belly of the beast would just get us digested, or something like that."
Wesley nodded. "Perhaps Spike was a more valuable ally than you would prefer to believe, after all," he offered.
Angel looked over his shoulder. "You really think I should call Buffy?" he asked.
Wesley didn't answer, and Angel grimaced. "Stupid question, huh."
"A bit cowardly, yes," said Wesley. "Though it might be best if you give me her contact information, and I can attempt to reach her instead."
"I don't actually have it – not all of it," said Angel. "I do have her address. She's in Rome. And I have someone keeping an eye on things over there."
Wesley raised an eyebrow.
"All right, keeping an eye on her." Angel sighed. "I can get in touch with my guy, have him track down a phone number and get it to you. Should be later today."
"Good." Wesley nodded. He didn't entirely trust Angel to make the call if left to his own devices, although he would prefer not to come right out and say so. From the way Angel's shoulders dropped, Wesley was fairly certain that Angel understood anyway.
He left Angel to gaze out over the city, and hopefully to think about everything that had been said today.
This chapter is dedicated to Hollows, without whom I would still be procrastinating. She got me out of my rut and moving again. Thank you, Hollows!